Thursday, February 02, 2006

Korea Gets More Worked Up for IP Enforcement

A couple of stories in the Korea Times, one day after another, shows a movement to enforce IP rights...or is there a movement. We start with a movement in the Presidential Cabinet to increase the penalties for software piracy:

Those caught infringing on the copyrights of computer programs by illegally copying or distributing them can face up to five years of imprisonment. Previously, the maximum sentence was three years in jail. 

The stiffer penalty will take effect when the National Assembly passes the revision of the law on protecting computer programs, which was endorsed during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. 

"The revision is aimed at providing an incentive to create programs,’’ an official at the Ministry of Information and Communication said. "It's also fair in light of equality with laws protecting other intellectual properties.’

Sounds good. We also have the National Intelligence Service wanting more penalties for Industrial Espionage according to the Korea Times. One reason is the increasing number of cases:

The counter-espionage agency said Tuesday it detected 29 cases of industrial espionage last year, which would have cost the country 35.5 trillion won if they had not been caught. Half of them involved big high-tech corporations. The number of detected case was six in 2003, but jumped to 26 in 2004.

Now we come to the "BUT", and its actually two big "BUTs". The National Intelligence Service stumbles on one of the "but's":

"Only about one third of convicted people receive prison terms or are fined, while the rest get suspended sentences or were found not-guilty. They get light sentences because either it is their first offense or they are caught before selling what they have stolen,'' an NIS officer said over the telephone on condition of anonymity.

From 2003 to 2004, only 16 out of 249 convicted people were sentenced to actual jail terms. That means the ratio of persons who received real jail terms is significantly lower than the average number of criminal cases, which is 25.4 percent.

This is one of the larger problems in Korea with regard to IP prosecution. The most preferable way to prosecute an infringement case is via criminal law (civil law is a endless pit of despair). A catch is that most criminal cases, especially for these types of crimes, eventually result in slaps on the wrist. Hell, I once blogged about a man who molested two kids, 4 and 5, that only got 8 months in the slam.  In a court system like that, guess how much a guy who stole some CD-ROMS gets? 

Speaking of espionage, any updates on the LMNT case? The prosecution supposedly caught them red-handed, shouldn't it be a slam dunk? Its been over six months now since they were caught.

Now for the second "BUT". There is one huge hurdle that the above from the Cabinet and the NIS does not address. Also if you wanted an update, its one reason the "reward" system I talked about is hollow and meaningful as a chocolate easter bunny. There is no ex officio prosecution in Korea. That is to say the only reason way anybody is going to get even see the business end of the law is if a company actually invests the won to go and prosecute the thing. The program I blogged on, linked above, about the "reward" system for spotting counterfeiters, is meaningless since the only way an informer gets rewarded if the wronged party actually successfully prosecutes the case (among other problems).

In my personal opinion, the only way IPR laws will have any teeth is if both cases are easier to report, are vigorously pursued by the authorities (including allowing prosecutors to file injunctions), and FINALY the above concerns about penalties are addressed.


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