A senior U.S. trade official on Friday accused Taiwan's government of failing to fight against rampant piracy of Hollywood movies and American music, with annual losses estimated at US$300 million for U.S. firms. Joseph Papovich, assistant U.S. trade representative, said Taiwan is considered one of the largest producers and exporters of pirated CDs, DVDs and other optical discs in Asia and one of the largest producers of such pirated discs in the world.
"We are beginning to become increasingly alarmed...that so far the authorities here really haven't taken effective steps," Papovich told reporters after holding talks with Taiwan officials on intellectual property rights.
"We want to see actions taken against these pirates and we want to see them shut down, their equipments seized, put out of business," Papovich said.
During the talks, Taiwan turned down a U.S. demand to extend copyrights on works including earlier Walt Disney movies for another 20 years, but Papovich said this was only a "side issue."
"This is a classic effort by Taiwan to change the subject. The main message we are trying to deliver is that this is now one of the worst places in the world for pirate production of optical media," Papovich said.
The U.S. Supreme Court considered on Wednesday whether Robert Frost poems and Mickey Mouse movies made more than 75 years ago should become public property or remain in the hands of their owners for another 20 years.
At issue is the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the exclusive period that artists and corporations can control their creative works by 20 years.
As a result, thousands of well-known works, from the earliest Disney films to the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, were prevented from passing into the public domain. Billions of dollars of entertainment-industry profits are at stake.
Papovich said Taiwan would consider whether to revise laws allowing prosecutors to press charges against copyright offenders even without specific complaints by right holders.
Outside the Board of Foreign Trade where the talks were held, dozens of college students protested against the U.S. demand, shouting "Knowledge can't be monopolized."
"Why should we be blamed for pursuing knowledge?" a student told local television.
Legislator Chen Chi-mei of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Washington had used Taiwan's desire to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States as a bargaining chip.
Papovich said the issues were related.
The Bush administration has not taken an official position on Taiwan's interest in negotiating a free trade zone but a senior administration official said in July Taipei "has a lot of work to do" before such an accord would be possible.
Intellectual property right protections and government procurement have been cited as areas on which Taipei must make progress.
Washington, Taiwan's main trading partner and arms supplier, has said the island's failure to protect intellectual property rights was causing hundreds of million dollars damage annually to U.S. recorded music, software and motion picture industries.
Taiwan's intellectual property rights laws are largely in line with international standards, although the entertainment industry has criticized enforcement efforts as pirated music and movies are easily available in the island's night markets.