Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 1 News List

File-sharing site calls suit futile

BY Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation's most popular file-sharing, or peer-to-peer, Web site yesterday tried to play down a criminal indictment launched against it by the Taipei District Public Prosecutors' Office, citing failed attempts to close similar sites in the US.

"Peer-to-peer sites have been prosecuted before and have been found not guilty," Philip Wang (王立文), spokesman for Kuro.com.tw (飛行網), told the Taipei Times yesterday.

"Given this trend, even the US federal court is taking the position that the technology itself is no different from a Xerox machine. It is the user's behavior that infringes copyright," he said.

Wang's comment goes to the heart of the peer-to-peer dilemma. While the technology itself may be neutral like a knife -- a useful tool for cutting vegetables that can also be used to kill -- site owners are allowing millions of people to copy movies, music and software without paying for it, which is crippling the entertainment industry, officials say.

On Thursday, the prosecutor's office filed charges against Kuro's management team and one subscriber under the amended Copyright Law (著作權法). Wang said that his company had not been served legal papers as of yesterday evening.

Music industry representative body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) was celebrating the move yesterday.

"Our position is that this is great," IFPI Taiwan branch secretary-general Robin Lee (李瑞斌) said yesterday.

"This proves that peer-to-peer is illegal and infringes copyright. It also shows that Taiwan's copyright laws conform to global standards," he said.

"It also means that Kuro and Ezpeer should close down their businesses," Lee added.

But cases against peer-to-peer sites have been notoriously difficult to prosecute. Napster, the world's first peer-to-peer site, was declared illegal and closed in 2001, but in April this year, the Los Angeles District Court dismissed cases against Web sites Grokster and Morpheus, ruling that their peer-to-peer technology could be used to share files like movie trailers and non-copyright music legally, as well as to download music files without the record labels' permission. It could not be proven that the site owners had direct knowledge of its users' infringement, the ruling said.

This ruling is currently under appeal, but it forced the music industry to change tactics and go after individuals. Since September, the Recording Industry Association of America has sent out 400 warning letters, received affidavits from over 1,000 former file-users and more than 200 settlements, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday. The same day, the association launched 41 new lawsuits and sent out 90 new warning letters to file-sharers.

Taiwan is following suit and has filed charges against five individuals, the most recent one on Thursday with Kuro against Chen Jia-hui (陳佳惠), who allegedly had stored 970 illegally copied song titles on her computer's hard disk.

"We want to take this chance to give peer-to-peer users a warning that they need to reconsider what they're doing and give up their membership of peer-to-peer sites," Lee said.

International IPR experts welcomed the news of the prosecutions yesterday.

"The Internet is the new frontier," Jeffrey Harris, co-chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei's Intellectual Property Committee.

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