Taiwanese authorities expressed disappointment yesterday at being listed among the world's most prolific counterfeiters by the US for the third year in a row.
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) placed Taiwan on its Special 301 Priority Watch List late Thursday due to "the lax protection of IPR [intellectual property rights], including lack of enforcement against piracy and trademark counterfeiting," the 2003 Special 301 report said.
The number two man at Taiwan's anti-piracy policy-making body labeled the decision "unfair," saying it regretted the decision since Taiwan had made a lot of progress in IPR protection over the last twelve months.
"Last year was IPR Action Year and we put a lot of effort into improving IPR protection," said Jack Lu (盧文祥), deputy director general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
He cited government initiatives including a special 220-strong police task force to bust bootleg disk factories, and the drafting of amendments to the Copyright Law (著作權法) making it easier for police to arrest copyright violators. The amendments are expected to be passed by the Legislative Yuan later this month.
The new listing comes as a slap in the face for Taiwanese authorities after they also increased the number of large-scale raids on factories producing pirated disks and upped the top reward for reporting possible pirating offenses from NT$1 million to NT$10 million.
Lu said that such measures showed Taiwan's sincerity in trying to tackle IPR crime and should have been sufficient to get Taiwan off the priority list.
"We should have been removed from the priority list and placed on the watch list,"he said.
But according to the US Trade Representative report, Taiwan's efforts to improve IPR protection "have not produced results, and piracy and counterfeiting levels remain unacceptably high."
The report says that compounding the lack of effective enforcement is a degree of incompetence on the part of law-enforcement agencies.
"Official raids are hampered by lack of expertise and poor interagency coordination," it said.
In 1988, the US set up the Special 301 report to put political pressure on countries that do not protect US IPR sufficiently.
Piracy experts said yesterday Taiwan only had itself to blame for remaining on the list.
"Taiwan could easily be taken off the list if it quit playing around," said Jeffrey Harris, co-chair of the American Chamber of Commerce's Intellectual Property Committee.
According to Harris, the problem rests with Taiwan's judges who regularly allow copyright violators to walk out of court with only a slap on the wrist.
"The judges need to understand that IPR crimes need stiff punishment," Harris said. "Taiwan has IPR protection laws on the books, but now people have to be scared of those laws." Yesterday's USTR report noted that "penalties are neither timely nor strong enough to deter infringement."
Harris's counterpart at the European Chamber of Commerce also said the government missed its chance to get off the list.
"The Special 301 decision was by no means a foregone conclusion," said John Eastwood, co-chair of the European chamber's IPR Committee.
"Taiwan did have a chance to get off the list, but last year there was a lot of talking and planning but very little action. We need to see a lot more meat and potatoes enforcement in 2003 and 2004," he said.