Taiwan's music industry suffered a setback yesterday when the Shihlin District Court found a local peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing operator not guilty of infringing intellectual property rights.
In the nation's first ruling on file-sharing cases, the court found that Weber Wu (吳怡達), president of Ezpeer -- which provides a for-fee platform for subscribers to swap files -- did not engage in reproducing or publicly distributing works of copyright holders.
The court also said that current laws and regulations do not specifically ban or limit file-sharing activities.
"We will keep negotiating with record labels to find a way that would create benefits for us, the copyright holders and consumers," Wu said at a press conference yesterday after the verdict was announced.
The plaintiff, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in Taiwan, which represents major record labels, said it would appeal the verdict.
"This is the darkest day for the music industry," said Robin Lee (
Lee said the association would also target individual file-sharers for further legal action.
The association has been waging a legal war on P2P operators for three years. A similar lawsuit against kuro.com.tw, Taiwan's largest file-sharing site, has yet to be decided.
Lee said yesterday's verdict would batter the already sagging music industry, citing the failure of the nation's first legal online music distributor, iBIZ Entertainment Technology Corp, which was launched in November 2003, but shut down after 15 months.
The verdict is also a slap in the face to Taiwan's national image, as many countries have found P2P operators liable for infringing copyrights, Lee said.
Taiwan has been trying to improve its intellectual property rights (IPR) protection for several years. In January, the nation was finally taken off the US Trade Representative's "Priority Watch List" and put on the less severe "Watch List" of IPR violators under the US' Special 301 Law. One of the major reasons the US continues to list Taiwan as an IPR violator is rampant file-sharing activities.
Two IPR experts criticized yesterday's ruling.
Taiwan should match the US Supreme Court's ruling on Monday that found file-sharing companies liable for encouraging third parties to use their products to infringe copyrights, said Paul Liu (
Liu said unauthorized use of file-sharing software only serves to discourage song writers or movie producers from creating original works.
John Eastwood, a lawyer with Wenger & Vieli and co-chairman of the Intellectual Property Committee of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei, said public awareness of IPR protection in Taiwan should also be enhanced to block file-sharing operators.
"The business model of Apple Computer Inc's iTune music store apparently is not viable here, as consumers have long enjoyed free downloading from the Internet," Eastwood said. "I think consumer education is going to be one of the next big battles."