Should the NPC also consider Criminal Copyright Reform when it considers Copyright Reform?

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At this month’s National People’s Congress, an NPC spokesman noted that this year the NPC intends to address reform of the copyright law, which has been long delayed. However, reform of the substantive copyright law will not typically address the need to reform the criminal copyright law and to address the relationship between civil and criminal copyright law. This point was raised in the Weixin platform Zhichanli (知产力), which addressed the key issues of criminal copyright law reform in a lively “cartoon” format (see above):

The four issues from the perspectives of the author of that blog are:

1.       Article 217 of the criminal code, mandates having a “profit motivation” in order for criminality to attach.Should the “profit motivation” requirement be removed from the criminal code?

2.       Whether to criminalize the Internet related right of “communication over information networks”?

3.       How to address secondary and principal liability of internet platforms?

4.       Three separate specific issues, including:

a)       How to criminalize destruction of technological protection measures?

b)      How to criminalize commercial scale use of piratical software?

c)       What are the thresholds to deal with online criminal enforcement?

In my view, these are all important issues, which should be considered in the context of copyright reform.    Many of these  issues were raised in DS/362, the WTO enforcement case which the United States brought against China.    Of particular note was that the United States raised the history of  amending US laws to address willful copyright infringement that caused large scale harm without necessarily causing commercial gain (the LaMacchia case, in the cartoon above).  In addition, the United States also recognized that thresholds based on the numbers of copies would not capture the harm caused by technological changes which permitted large digital quantities to be distributed on line or in compressed formats.   One of the current thresholds involves 500 “flat articles”  ( 500 ) (typically used for CD’s or flat pieces of paper), which the WTO panel called “copies, for the sake of simplicity” and is an awkward determinant for infringement in rapidly moving technologies.

Also of note is that criminal IP enforcement has become more important in China. This was brought to my attention by a Chinese judge who mentioned that while China opposed the WTO case, it was now widely recognized that criminal IP is an important part of an IP enforcement system. In a sense, the US may have lost the 2007 battle over criminal IP at the WTO, but clearly won the war. The data bears this out. When the WTO was filed against China, there were only about 904 criminal IP  infringement cases in China (2007).   In 2013, by comparison there were 7,804 infringement cases – an increase of about 8 times, not including increases in other provisions of the criminal code that also can address IP infringement, such as crimes involving illegal business operations or fake and shoddy goods.

While China recognizes that criminal IP is enforcement it an important part of its enforcement system,  an equally important question concerns the role of the relatively small criminal IP enforcement system in light of China’s civil, administrative and customs enforcement (see chart below).  In addition to the increasing number of criminal IP prosecutions,  the increasing numbers of referrals from China’s administrative copyright enforcement to criminal copyright enforcement is an encouraging trend in this regard.  An even more encouraging sign would be consideration by the NPC of criminal copyright law reform at the same time as it considers substantive copyright law reform.  As criminal law reform goes through different procedures at the NPC, working on both issues simultaneously may entail some coordination, but would help ensure that any changes to China’s copyright regime is comprehensive and would set a good precedent for other IP legislative reforms coming up, such as in reform of the trade secret regime in the Antiunfair Competition Law.

 

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