China's intellectual property rights (IPR) watchdog has turned its attention to Internet infringements after launching a successful campaign to contain DVD and CD piracy.
In its sights are illegal downloads of films, music, software and textbooks, which have been described as "rampant."
"IPR infringements on the Internet not only violate the interests of copyright holders but also stain the country's reputation globally," said Long Xinmin, head of the National Copyright Administration (NCA), which, along with the ministries of Public Security, and Commerce, launched a three-month campaign on Monday.
The IPR watchdog has vowed to clamp down on major websites that offer unauthorized downloads. While it has no authority to deal with foreign websites offering illegal material, it is targeting local sites that offer either links outside the country or unauthorized downloads
The administration collaborated with major IPR protection associations in the country to collect evidence for 302 Internet IPR infringement cases during a one-month investigation, according to Wang Ziqiang, head of the NCA's copyright management department.
"The number is double that of last year, which means that Internet copyright infringement is still rampant," Wang said.
Officials have tracked down the website operators and their details will be passed on to local copyright bureaus for action, Wang added.
Of the 302 cases involving 31 regions, 123 are about software IPR infringement, followed by films and music. Most are in developed areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang Province.
Copyright holders and IPR experts, however, said administrative punishment alone is not enough.
"The campaign will help reduce IPR violations to some extent. But instead of periodic clampdowns, we need a consistent effort from officials and the awareness and cooperation of both netizens and website operators," said Xu Li, deputy general manager of Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Film Investment Co, the country's biggest private film-maker and a victim of IPR infringement.
Internet users in China are known as netizens.
Xu suggested that, considering the strong demand for online content, filmmakers could consider authorizing downloads from legal websites.
However, few film companies in the US or China bother to offer online versions of their products due to low profit margins.
"IPR infringement cases in the virtual world are hard to supervise. Some of them involve foreign websites. Netizens also have difficulty distinguishing legal websites from illegal ones," Jiang Zhipei, president of the IPR Court at the Supreme People's Court, told China Daily.
"So it is a long battle requiring cooperation from both netizens, website operators and sound legal and administrative backup."
(China Daily November 1, 2006)