Rampant piracy lands China on 'watch list'

The Bush administration claims China isn't living up to its commitment to a copyright crackdown.

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
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The Bush administration has placed China on a "priority watch list" for allegedly not doing enough to protect intellectual property rights.

China's skeletal copyright laws and lackluster enforcement have combined to create a free-for-all haven for piracy, the U.S. Trade Representative said in a report on Friday.

"China must take action to address rampant piracy and counterfeiting, including increasing the number of criminal (infringement) cases and further opening its market to legitimate copyright and other goods," said acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier. (The Senate recently confirmed Robert Portman as USTR.)

While elevating China to "priority watch list" is largely symbolic, it does indicate the Bush administration's willingness to pressure the Communist government to crack down on rampant piracy. Among the administration's requests: criminal prosecutions, new laws, and adoption of the type of "anti-circumvention" laws found in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

China made commitments in principle to take many of those steps at an April 2004 trade summit.

The USTR's report also singles out Canada, America's largest trading partner, as having inadequate copyright laws. A Canadian court, for instance, ruled last year that it was legal to download music on peer-to-peer networks.

That ruling, the USTR said in its report, is out of line with the laws in "nearly all other developed countries." Canada will stay on the USTR's "watch list," along with Azerbaijan, Belarus and Malaysia.

In addition, the USTR said, "the U.S. copyright industry is concerned" that Canada has yet to adopt anti-circumvention laws akin to the DMCA. Canada's "progress in providing an adequate and effective (copyright) protection regime" will be closely monitored over the next year, the USTR said.

"This represents the first shot across the Canadian bow," warned Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "If history is any indicator, the copyright reform plan is going to face an onslaught of U.S.-backed lobbying for stronger protections in the months ahead."