IPR violators could be jailed up to 7 years
China promised on Tuesday to get tougher on copyright and patent violations, a long-awaited move to crack down on piracy.
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.
The interpretation, debated behind closed doors for much of the year, aims 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 a press briefing in Beijing.
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 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.
U.S. officials and businesses have complained that so far it has been too difficult to prosecute violators, and successful cases have almost always resulted in modest fines that do little to deter the problem.
They have also complained that while the central government appears serious about tackling piracy, local officials and police have often been reluctant to act.
Violations are widespread, with DVDs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters selling on the streets for less than $1.
A report issued recently by the office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick alleges that Chinese copyright violations alone are estimated to cost U.S. companies up to $3.8 billion a year.
The piracy isn't confined to media, however. Industrial firms such as U.S. car giant General Motors have complained that Chinese companies have copied their designs, and knock-offs of the latest Louis Vuitton and Nike styles can be bought for a fraction of the price of the legitimate product.
"Protecting IP rights is necessary not only for China's honoring of its international promises, creating a favorable trade and investment environment and... improving the quality of the economy," Cao said.
According to the new law interpretation, if an offender reproduces or distributes, without the approval of copyright owners, 5,000 or more copies of literary, music, movie, TV or video works, computer software or other works, the offender should be sentenced to 3-7 years in prison on charge of the crime of copyright violation, and be also subjected to financial penalty.