China, often criticized by the West for failing to tackle rampant illegal downloading of music and films, said yesterday it had closed 205 Web sites in a crackdown on Internet piracy.
Officials said that between the end of September and last month they had investigated 436 cases, including about 130 at the request of overseas industry associations, and ordered 361 offenders to stop their infringements.
"Piracy of intellectual property on the Internet has seriously harmed the interests of copyright owners, leading to a large number of disputes -- and thus disrupting the orderliness of the Internet," Yan Xiaohong (閻曉宏), deputy director of the National Copyright Administration, told a news conference.
Yan said that in the latest action, authorities had imposed fines totalling 705,000 yuan (US$91,000), confiscated 71 servers and transferred six cases to courts for prosecution. One of those had led to a conviction, he said.
Prominent cases included sites that offered downloads of software, textbooks, music and television shows. In one case, all the Internet cafes in Changchun, in the country's northeast, were found to be linked into a database of pirated films.
The Chinese habitually download pirated music and movies due to the high price of authorized copies and government restrictions on cultural imports; many Western movies are not even officially available.
Pirated music, movies and software are sold openly on Chinese streets, a major irritant in trade relations with the US.
The US Motion Picture Association, which represents some of Hollywood's largest movie studios, says Chinese bootlegging, illegal copying and Internet piracy cost US studios US$244 million in lost box office revenues last year.
Official figures show China now has about 843,000 Web sites and 140 million Internet users, making it the world's second largest Internet market.
Yan declined to estimate how many of those sites contained pirated material, but called for understanding from China's trade partners that it was working in earnest to address the issue.
"With the Internet developing so quickly, I'm afraid that in China, as elsewhere, it's going to take some time before we can effectively manage it," he said.
Yan said China had only limited success during the four-month crackdown on Internet piracy and copyright infringement.
"This latest action had a limited timeframe and limited results. It did not solve all the problems we are facing on the Internet," he said.
Critics complain that the problem is worsening because penalties for violators are too low.
One Web site in southern China's Sichuan Province operating under the name "Jiucheng Theater" was found to have provided illegal downloads of 400 movies since it was set up in 2004.
Authorities closed the site and fined site operator, Sichuan Telecom, 10,000 yuan, according to a handout. Sichuan Telecom is a subsidiary of the state-run China Telecom Group.
Yan said he understood the frustration of copyright holders who feel the penalties should be stricter but said it was up to the legislature not his administration to make such changes.
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