Taiwan vowed on Wednesday to root out rampant compact disc piracy ahead of a massive protest march by pop signers and movie stars who say the problem has gone from bad to worse. "This is the year we take action to promote protection of intellectual property rights," government spokesman Chuang Suo-han quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as telling a cabinet meeting.
Putting words into action, the police seized pirated CDs worth over $1.1 million from a warehouse in northern Taiwan late on Tuesday. The 100,000 discs ranged from brand new records by top Taiwan and Hong Kong singers to Hollywood blockbusters like "Black Hawk Down," "Collateral Damage" and yet-to-be released "Spiderman."
Organizers of Thursday's anti-piracy protest said the total value of pirated records sold has amounted to more than T$10 billion. "Taiwan's record piracy problem worsens every year," said a statement issued by IFPI Members Foundation in Taiwan, which organized the rally.
"It has seriously affected the survival and work right of those who work in Chinese music industry," the foundation said. For many, pirated CDs are too cheap to resist. A pirated disc costs as little as $1.40, a fraction of a copyrighted one that usually costs $8.60 or more.
They are available on the streets or night markets, where customers follow written instructions to put money in a box before picking up their CDs. Vendors usually hide nearby to monitor business transactions. Some hire teenagers to sell pirated CDs because they face lighter punishment when caught.
Downloading music directly from the Internet is also common, especially among computer-savvy university students. "Almost everyone I know downloads music from computers. Those who buy copyrighted CDs are rare exception," said Fred Tseng, a 24-year-old graduate student with a machinery major.
Movie theaters around the island will be shut most of Thursday as workers join the rally. Taiwan was on the U.S. special 301 "priority watch list" of intellectual property violators in 2001 and a new watch list is likely to be drawn up this month.
The list is meant to single out the world's worst copyright offenders and could lead to retaliation in the future. Economics Minister Lin Yi-fu urged Washington to remove the island from its watch list, saying the island has impressive results to show in a campaign against counterfeits. Taiwan authorities have seized over $62 million worth of counterfeits so far this year, more than double from the same period last year.