The government yesterday kicked off a get-tough campaign against intellectual-property-right infringements by encouraging people to turn in companies that use pirated software for a cash reward.
The launch comes amid calls from business groups to address the ream of procedural flaws that continue to hamper prosecution of infringement cases in Taiwan courts and only weeks before the US is scheduled to release its annual "special 301 watch list."
While acknowledging some progress by the government in combating rampant counterfeiting operations, observers say the nation is likely to be listed yet again among those countries classified as serious violators of intellectual property rights (IPR).
A joint effort of the ministries of justice and economic affairs and the Business Software Alliance (台灣商業軟體聯盟), the "2002 Business Against Piracy Campaign" was launched yesterday, with the warning that companies using counterfeit software had until May 1 -- or 45 days -- to clean house.
The 45-day grace period is to ensure businesses are fully aware of the campaign. During this time the software alliance, in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, will hold a series of free seminars on the legalities and management of IPR protection.
To bring the anti-piracy message home, the campaign will be promoted with a television commercial that questions the viewer whether their company uses pirated software and offers a series of rewards to those that finger companies using counterfeit software.
People who are willing to sign their name to accusations against a firm will receive NT$2,002. If that information leads a judge to issue a subpoena then NT$20,000 will be awarded. If the person is willing to serve as a witness they could be eligible for up to NT$1 million.
Quoting data provided by BSA's International Planning and Research Corp, Chang said that in 2000 the percentage of Taiwan firms using pirated software was 53 percent, or 16 percentage points over the international average.
Use of pirated software caused losses of up to US$150 million, according to the corporation.
Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) declared that protecting IPR was the duty of everyone in Taiwan and said there would be more crackdowns on violators as seen in recent days in Taichung against businesses that copy textbooks for students.
"Taichung investigators have taken action against manufacturers of pirated goods ... and they will no doubt continue their tireless work and take their enquiries to Taipei and Kaohsiung as well," Chen said. "Taiwan is a developed country with an annual per capita income of over US$10,000 so we have no excuse to permit infringements of IPR."
Observers were encouraged by the move to educate the public and take what appeared to be concrete action against perpetrators, but pointed out that a number of problems still exist within the legal system in dealing with IPR cases filed by foreign firms.
Michelle Gon (龔雅玲), senior advisor at Baker and McKenzie, told the Taipei Times that time-consuming procedures in proving authenticity of legal counsel for foreign plaintiffs meant that IPR infringers had adequate time to get away.
Additionally, the government's decriminalization of certain IPR violations meant resigning the potential cases to the civil code, which, according to Gon, doesn't have the deterrent effect that criminal law does.