Proposed changes to Taiwan Copyright Act spark firewall fears


Proposed amendments to the Taiwan Copyright Act may make it legal for Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to certain websites.

On May 21, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) issued a statement outlining its proposal to change the Copyright Act to allow authorities to block “major infringing sites” in an effort to reduce harm to the Taiwanese creative industries.

The statement has raised fears that should the amendments go ahead, a China-style “Great Firewall” will be enforced, stopping Internet users in Taiwan from accessing any website that hosts pirated material, including YouTube.

The proposal has been compared to the Stop Online Piracy Act bill in the US, which was suspended last year after criticisms from civil liberties groups.

Ching Chiao, vice president of .asia generic top level domain operators DotAsia, described the proposal as a “setback for democracy”.

“Countries which have implemented ISP-level blocking are turning the Internet into an Intranet, the first step for turning a modern country into a self-enclosed country,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

If the IP office is able to block certain websites, the Internet experience will become unsatisfactory and users will find ways to “jump” it using circumvention technology, he said.

“The IPO should spend more time communicating with the international communities rather than pushing through a notorious policy for ISP-level blocking,” he added.

Peter Dernbach, partner at Winkler Partners in Taipei, said there had been misconceptions about TIPO’s proposal, which makes no mention of implementing a firewall in Taiwan.

“A firewall is a network security system that blocks whole categories of sites based on a rule set, whether it’s pirated content, politically sensitive, pornographic content or content contrary to morals, either through technical or manual methods,” he said.

“TIPO is not proposing to go after all sites that host copyright infringing content.”

He explained that TIPO proposes to create an interagency commission, made of “competent authorities” that may include Taiwan’s ISP moderator, the National Communications Commission, as well as rights holders and other expert groups.

The commission will have the authority to issue administrative orders to ISPs to block access to certain sites, he said, adding that if a party feels the administrative order is inappropriate, it can bring a lawsuit challenging the order.

TIPO’s primary policy objective is to protect the creative industries within Taiwan from the growing harm caused by copyright infringement over the Internet, Dernback said.

“The government is reacting to the fact that a great deal of copyright-protected material is being freely distributed in Taiwan from sites hosted overseas.

“If those same sites were hosted here in Taiwan, the Taiwan authorities have a mechanism to address that,” he added. “They don’t have jurisdiction to shut down sites based overseas, but they can request the Taiwan-based ISP to block access to certain IP addresses. It’s not a firewall that prohibits material that would be acceptable in Taiwan, rather it’s an attempt to extend their ability to restrict access to pirated content that is coming over the border of the digital jurisdiction.”

This article was first published on 30 May 2013 in World IP Review

TIPO, Taiwan Copyright Act, ISPs, online piracy, firewall

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