Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: IPR progress shouldn't be ignored

In the wake of amendments to the Copyright Law (著作法) last month designed to curb piracy, news reports on Wednesday revealed the US government has decided to suspend high-level exchanges with Taiwan because it feels Taipei lacks the interest and sincerity in resolving bilateral economic and trade differences over issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).

One cannot help but feel the timing seems a little odd for the US to be taking such a drastic measure. After all, the Copyright Law, as amended, has sharpened the teeth of law enforcement in cracking down on piracy. For example, monetary sanctions for violations have been increased several fold, with the ceiling on civil damages raised from NT$1 million to NT$5 million, and fines for habitual and serious violations raised from NT$450,000 to NT$8 million.

While Taiwan was again placed on the Special 301 priority watch list by the US in May, signs indicate that piracy is declining. According to a report by the Business Software Alliance, the level of software piracy in Taiwan declined to 43 percent last year from the 53 percent in the previous year. This large decline may suggest that the hard work put in place by Taiwan's government to crack down on piracy and educate the general public is beginning to pay off.

Much work remains to be done and much room for improvement exists -- the global piracy level reported by the software alliance last year was 39 percent, a figure significantly lower than that of Taiwan. Moreover, a report released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry on Wednesday lists Taiwan among the top 10 countries for CD piracy.

However, there is no quick fix for problems such as piracy. The measures taken by the government, from the amendments to the Copyright Law to a series of campaigns to educate the public, take time to have an effect.

Moreover, the government is anything but "lacking interest and sincerity" when it comes to dealing with these problems. For a host of reasons, both political and economic, it is yearning to sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US. With the US linking the signing of an FTA to progress in IPR protection, Taipei has just about reached the point of "you say `jump,' I say `how high'" on the issue, triggering a backlash among some groups high on nationalism.

On the other hand, the actual wording used by US Department of State spokesperson Philip Reeker on the issue is much more mild and toned down from how it was depicted in Chinese-language news reports. According to him, the US "will evaluate the requests for senior-level economic meetings in light of the needs for progress on issues of concern." There was no talk of an outright suspension of economic exchanges. Moreover, Reeker emphasized that Taiwan remains an "important economic partner."

Without a doubt, it is the intent of the US to pressure Taiwan on the issue of IPR protection. However, if things are taken too far in light of progress on IPR protection here, then one cannot escape the suspicion that perhaps the US is using the issue as an excuse to back away from talks on an FTA -- a move that would appease China in light of its need for support on issues such as North Korea.

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