U.S. criticizes China over copyrights

The director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has criticized the Chinese government for inaction over continuing intellectual property (IP) theft in the country.

Appearing in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, USPTO Director James E. Rogan highlighted ongoing problems with piracy in Asia, but spent most of his time detailing problems in China.

“The risks of increased piracy (in China) mount on a daily basis with rapidly increasing Internet penetration, Napster-like file exchange systems, and involvement of organized crime,” said Rogan, according to an official transcript. “Yet despite WTO (World Trade Organization) commitments, there is little evidence of any prosecutions of Chinese citizens for criminal copyright theft. Even Deng Xiaoping’s daughter had her biography of her father pirated by the Chinese press.”

China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this year has opened avenues through which the United States can pursue copyright problems in the fast-growing market. Another factor is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, which came into force last month. A second treaty, the WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty will enter force on May 20.

The cost to the software industry of piracy in China is large, according to the Business Software Alliance, an industry group established to help fight piracy. In its most recent annual survey, which was published just under a year ago, the group estimated piracy in China was running at 94 per cent – making the country second only to Vietnam in terms of the level of use of copied software. BSA said piracy in China cost software makers US$1.1 billion in 2000.

With his criticisms, Rogan left some room in his speech to praise China for the efforts it has made to date.

“China has made some important improvements in the past year, with city governments in Beijing and Shanghai taking the lead in insuring they use legal software products and the closing of a major manufacturer of pirated academic journals. Still, many areas remain essentially ‘one copy’ jurisdictions where only one legitimate copy may be purchased and the rest are produced illegally.”

Despite the moves made by Beijing and Shanghai, he noted Nanjing and Dalian are cities where “rampant piracy problems are developing.” These problems led the USPTO and the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Department of Commerce and State Department to fund copyright and IP enforcement workshops for government officials in the latter two cities and more workshops are planned for later this year.

Rogan’s highlighting of Internet-based copyright infringement and IP theft, such as music swapping services, came a day after a new report said China is now second only to the U.S. in numbers of Internet users. The survey, by Nielsen/NetRatings, estimated China has 56.6 million Internet users, putting it ahead of Japan, the previously second-placed country, with an estimated 51.3 million users. The United States remained the number one with 166 million, according to the survey.