Forum: Searching Legal Applications for Online Content

Copyright violations account for more than half of intellectual property cases nationwide, Kong Xiangjun, chief judge in the IP Division of the Supreme People's Court, told a Peking-Stanford university forum on Internet law and public policy in Beijing last week.

And more than half of those copyright infractions are related to the Internet.

"Online IP protection is a hot issue and a frontier in the field of justice," Kong said.

"We need to balance the interests of various parties including copyright owners, the Internet industry and the public," he noted.

Wang Zhicheng, a senior official at the National Copyright Administration, told the meeting that Internet piracy is "a complicated, thorny issue" that challenges enforcement agencies worldwide.

"Rapidly emerging and advancing digital and Internet technologies have weakened the control of copyright owners over their works and challenge conventional regulatory models and protection rules," Wang said.

He suggested exploring a new approach to copyright authorization adapted to the Internet environment that promotes use of enormous online works and at the same time uses advanced digital technologies to enhance copyright protection.

Despite a trend toward uniformity in global copyright laws, "it takes only one country that has low levels of protection to undermine and erode protection worldwide", said Paul Goldstein, professor of law at Stanford University.

"All pirates need to do is to seek a haven" and then spread unauthorized products on the Internet, Goldstein said.

"I predict the solution will not lie in public regulations, but rather in Internet service providers themselves," he said, adding that private operations are "quicker and more efficient" as "government regulations move so slowly" compared to the advance of technology.

He said that Google - as well as leading Chinese dotcoms Tencent and Alibaba - have developed technologies for monitoring and screening copyright infringements on their own.

"They have a shared interest with their copyright owners," the law professor said.

China's Internet legislation focuses more on administration than protection, said Peking University law professor Zhang Ping.

"It is mostly government authority that dominates in maintaining order on the Internet, while private power is more efficient for protection in many cases," she said, adding that large companies already have an active role in helping formulate policies and regulations.

"The scope of our product offerings and our increasingly global reach raises a variety of legal issues," said Brent Irvin, general counsel of Tencent, which is involved in a wide range of online businesses including instant messaging, social networking services, games and e-commerce.

He noted a Tencent online open platform that now hosts 40,000 computer or mobile applications by private developers available for download.

"We do some basic screening, but can't do a thorough review of every app," Irvin said.

Tencent has a complaint process that "encourages third parties claiming IP infringement to talk to developers directly, but we often find ourselves in the position of judge and jury", he noted.

Apps uploaded by individual developers are harder to screen that easily viewed audiovisual content, industry watchers said.

Hosting services can find themselves in a dilemma - protecting IP rights while not damaging developers of legitimate applications.

The principle of a "safe harbor" that conditionally exempts service providers from IP infringement liability "is necessary for the business model to thrive", Irvin said.

Yet few clear rules govern or protect the emerging business model, so it is the regulatory framework that holds the ultimate key to development of the industry, he said.

(Source: China Daily)