Wednesday, December 22, 2004

CHINA TAKES STEP IN CURBING IP THEFT: China promised to get tougher on copyright and patent violations, a long-awaited move that may ease U.S. concerns over rampant piracy, believed to cost foreign businesses billions of dollars every year. In a new interpretation of the law governing intellectual property rights, the country's top court lowered the bar for treating violations as crimes and laid out prison terms of up to 7 years for the worst offenders. However, Beijing's decision to release the new guidelines without giving Washington a chance to weigh in on the final package prompted a tart U.S. response.

"We received the text today. We would have liked to have looked at it before it was issued in its final state. As this is the first time that we've seen it, we need time to review it closely," said Neena Moorjani, spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office. The interpretation, debated behind closed doors for much of the year, aims to address long-standing complaints by the United States and others that China has done little to stamp out piracy of everything from software to golf clubs.

"We should not only sentence such offenders in a determined manner, but also make it economically impossible for the criminals convicted and sentenced to commit the crime again," Cao Jianming, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, told reporters.

Cao said the court had firmed up legal definitions of terms such as "without permission of the copyright owner" and "reproducing and distributing" to make it easier to prosecute offenders. The legal ruling also comes amid heightened awareness within China over the pitfalls of counterfeit products following a fake milk powder scandal that killed 13 babies and made nearly 200 others sick.

Moorjani said the U.S. government would soon have "a more complete reaction" to the new judicial guidelines.

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