A software industry association yesterday tripled its top reward for turning in software pirates.
From now until the end of May, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which includes Microsoft Corp and Norton Antivirus developer Symantec Corp, is offering NT$880,000 to anyone who offers information on factories making illegal copies of its members' software. Previously the top reward was NT$300,000.
"We have set no limit on the amount of money available for this special reward program," Sung Hong-ti chair of the Taiwan branch of the BSA.
One in every two software disks sold nationwide is a fake, according to the BSA. Piracy cost domestic software makers US$160 million in 2001, according to the most recent figures published by the BSA.
"The proportion of software disks pirated in Taiwan in 2001 was 53 percent, whereas the world average was 40 percent," the BSA's Stella Lai said.
Software makers in Asia Pacific lost US$4.7 billion in revenues in 2001, Lai said. Figures for last year are expected to be released next month.
Potential claimants for the top prize are expected to appear as a witness in court against the factory owners they finger.
"There are definite dangers," said John Eastwood, a lawyer at Winkler Partners and co-chair of the Intellectual Property Committee of the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.
"Organized crime involved in software piracy are not above making death threats," he said.
Eastwood said the big cash reward may help ease potential fears.
The BSA is also offering two smaller rewards -- NT$20,000 for a court appearance that results in a warrant being issued and NT$2,000 for filing paperwork that identifies a counterfeiter.
The announcement of the reward hike comes as the government tries to get tougher on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection in response to complaints from the US.
"The IPR issue is a priority for the government," Minister for Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu said at yesterday's launch of the BSA's new reward program.
Lin pointed out that the government established a temporary 220-strong anti-piracy police task force on Jan. 7.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs has also passed revisions of the Copyright Law concerning disk piracy and IPR to the Legislative Yuan.
"The ministry will continue its IPR efforts and continue its inter-ministerial co-operation with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of the Interior," Lin said.
IPR is not just a foreign issue.
"IPR is very important to Taiwan as the economy has shifted to a knowledge-based one, exemplified by the number of secured patents in the US last year by the nation, which was third after Japan and Germany," said Ho Jen-shyong, convener of the Chinese National Federation of Industries IPR committee, who is expected to become chairman of the federation later this month.
On a US visit six weeks ago, he was invited to lunch by the American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal. During the lunch a congressional official in charge of IPR issues challenged Ho on the number of pirated disks coming out of Taiwan. The official indicated that despite all the measures Taiwan has taken, the US is still not satisfied with its record on combating piracy.
"I suspect Taiwan may be back on the Special 301 Priority Watch List this year," Ho said.
The list is up for review this month.