Copyright group dooms Thai listing

The top lobbying group driving US government policy on copyrights and trademarks has asked Washington to upgrade the rating of Thailand because the government has increased cooperation and changed political direction on the issue.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), an alliance of industry groups pushing for tougher laws on piracy and counterfeits, said it believes the Yingluck Shinawatra government may be about to reverse years of abuse of intellectual property (IP) laws.

The group voted to "recommend that Thailand be moved to the Watch List" in the 2013 report of international IP violators by the US Trade Representative (USTR) in April.

The IIPA announcement was made Monday in a press release.

Although the USTR has full power over its Special 301 Report issued each year, it would be highly unusual to ignore the recommendations of the most influential industry group.

If the US government accepts the IIPA recommendation, it could result in a political victory for the Yingluck government. Thailand has been included on the "special watch list" of the annual report since 2007. The IIPA recommendation, if reflected in the USTR report, would upgrade Thailand from "worst violators" of IP law.

The IIPA is an umbrella group representing US industries including software, movies, TV networks, music and books. It claims to be "strengthening international protection and enforcement of copyright by working with US government, foreign government and private sector representatives," but in fact is a strong lobby which has constantly recommended ever-tougher laws to oppose IP violations, in the US but especially overseas.

Its website claims the group works to "open up foreign markets closed by piracy and other market access barriers". Its members give tens of millions of dollars in donations to US politicians and political parties.

In 2007, Thailand was put on the annual blacklist known as the "Priority Watch List" of the USTR - 13 countries judged by the United States as the worst in the world at violating US IP laws and requests.

Thailand was initially placed on the list for taking the legal step of compulsory licensing - removing several anti-Aids and anti-cancer drugs from patent protection in order to make cheaper versions.

The 15-page IIPA report issued Monday (Thailand time) makes no mention of that. Instead, it stresses copyright violations such as pirated software, movies and music.

The Commerce Ministry and its Department of Intellectual Property have been trying to convince the US to move Thailand from the priority watch list, but without obvious results. The USTR report, with Thailand almost certain to remain on the list of worst violators, will be issued in Washington about April 30.

The harshest language against Thailand by the IIPA is reserved for the government and parliament for their "inability to put into place needed legal norms to address these problems".

It dismisses a recent decree which bans "camcording" in cinemas and demands a whole new section of the Copyright Law to ban the practice, including prison sentences for cinema employees and seizure of equipment. But it praised a government promise to pass a law against cam-cording in the near future.

The IIPA also lays down other tough demands for Thailand to reverse the industry's group recommendation to keep Thailand high on the list of the world's violators.

These include making landlords responsible if shops and kiosks sell pirated goods, a full audit and replacement of pirated software in all government offices, and declaring copyright piracy as "organised crime" such as drug trafficking.

"IIPA's previous reports document in detail various piracy issues in Thailand and the harm caused to the US content industries," the group warned.

(NOTE: A previous version of this story was unclear that the IIPA recommended that Thailand be moved off the USTR's Priority Watch List and "upgraded" to the next tier, known as the "watch list".)

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