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Using a hammer on a delicate problem

Source: Bangkok Post
Date: May 27, 2003

Piracy Thailand is earning a terrible reputation around the world as the source of massive amounts of pirated software, illegally made entertainment DVDs and rip-off, counterfeit material that ranges from fashion clothing to aeroplane tyres. The United States threatens to put Thailand on a punitive watch list before the end of the year. Europe has named Thailand as the biggest source of pirated material on that continent, and trade sanctions are possible. The government has begun a crackdown that already shows signs of fizzling out.

There is no doubt Thais themselves suffer from the blatant theft. Yuenyong ``Add Carabao'' Ophakul says piracy is so bad that he won't be making any more records. The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre estimates pirates suck tens of millions of baht from would-be entrepreneurs and software start-ups which never get off the ground. Nectec has recommended that authorities set up a special enforcement unit to deal with cybercrime, ranging from computer hacking and theft to simple piracy.

The government launched its latest crackdown on piracy and counterfeiting on May 1, with the result that it has driven illegal movies out of the malls in Bangkok and into the smaller markets and countless small shops along the streets. Squeeze the pirates in one place and, like a blob in a bag, they move to another. The problem has been wrongly compared with campaigns against drugs. The public support anti-drug crackdowns but are unmoved by moves against pirates.

Deputy Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook has been the most outspoken Thai official on the public's side. Mr Watana has properly criticised big business for putting the entire enforcement onus on the government. And he has correctly questioned sensational, headline-grabbing statistics about the extent of piracy and about Thailand's role in the problem. Big business seems to assume everyone who pays 150 baht for a pirated program would pay 20,000 baht for the same software if the pirates disappeared.

Pirates have huge stocks, allow immediate access and provide good service. Try to buy anything but current music from a legal distributor or a legal copy of all but a few business-promoted software programs. Cheap software has helped to educate new Thai computer users who otherwise could never have afforded ownership. And there is growing evidence that piracy of digital music actually builds a demand for legal CDs and DVDs, by spreading the artists' works further.

These are not arguments in favour of theft. However, they are valid points raised by consumers. Survey after Thai survey, informal and scientific, shows consumers would prefer to buy legal products from legitimate suppliers. They cite sky-high prices. Would-be customers also complain of unavailable merchandise, limited choice and small stocks, with no better service or help.

The piracy problem, and Thailand's reputation, can only be effectively addressed by a wide and thoughtful campaign. It is not enough to seize goods and arrest pirates^; they are too numerous. It is not enough to make the ownership of pirated goods illegal^; there are not enough reliable, cheap goods from legal sources. It is ineffective and wasteful to assign thousands of government employees and police to intimidate or arrest pirates and consumers, because they are only fellow citizens and there is no heart in enforcement.

It is more difficult, and definitely time-consuming, to educate consumers, encourage businesses to be competitive instead of restrictive, and to convince pirates to become legitimate. But no other threats or crackdowns will end this massive theft of intellectual property.

Original article: http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/27May2003_news28.html

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