Not long ago, a Taiwanese entertainer, who is the chief executive officer of a professional basketball league, was criticized for using a Ubox to stream pirated content from the Tokyo Olympics. As Ubox and many other set-top boxes, also known as “illicit streaming devices,” provide access to TV channels and video content via the Internet, would consumers be contravening the Copyright Act (著作權法) if they use such devices at home? Will the government continue to strictly safeguard copyright after the Olympics? These are issues that should be given consideration.
The seller of Ubox emphasizes during the sales process that the device is examined by the authorities and everything is legal.
However, passing the examination merely means that the hardware’s radio frequency is normal; it does not guarantee that the video content accessed via the device is legally authorized by copyright holders. In other words, if the streaming content is not authorized by the local or international media, such content is illegal.
When the National Communications Commission issued an approval certificate for Ubox in 2017, it specifically included a warning saying that the scope of approval does not include the video content available once the device is connected to the Internet.
The commission added a passage in February last year, saying that the seller and the buyer of the device must pay attention to and respect intellectual property rights. This shows that the approval does not include the streaming content.
A Ubox sells for about NT$4,000, and there are no additional subscription fees. In comparison, an annual subscription for cable TV is about NT$6,000. This shows that the cost of a Ubox is even less than the cost of a one-year cable TV subscription. How could that include authorization by TV stations?
Absurdly, many of the apps that can be downloaded to a Ubox to stream channels can only be used on the device. Most people seem to believe that since purchasing the device is not against the law, they can get away with using it, but if a consumer is aware that the content streaming on the device is pirated, they could be in contravention of the act.
Furthermore, if a piracy streaming control room is found by police, user devices at the receiving end lose their signal, so their usage rights cannot be protected.
The operation of a commercial enterprise requires huge capital. TV stations need to pay massive broadcasting rights fees to air the Olympics, and producing a show also requires a lot of capital. Producing high-quality shows is a display of a country’s soft power, but that power is eroded when people watch pirated content on set-top boxes.
Besides, it takes a lot of national resources to crack down on piracy, including prosecutors and police collecting evidence, targeting control rooms and dealers, applying for search warrants, and questioning and investigating the suspects after raids.
If everyone says “no” to piracy, perhaps the national resources that are allocated to the fight against streaming piracy could be reallocated to where they are truly needed. That being so, Taiwan’s film and TV industry would likely increase its international visibility and soft power.
Tai Chih-chuan is a lawyer.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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