Brunei remains on piracy watch list

A man holds pirated music CDs during a press conference to launch an anti-piracy campaign at Rizqun International Hotel in this August 20, 2009 file photo. Picture: BT file

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

BRUNEI remains on a "watch list" of countries identified as violators of intellectual property rights (IPR), according to a report by the the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

The US "looks forward" to cooperating with Brunei to address existing issues, said the report, noting that both Brunei and the US are founding members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

While Brunei still has "high piracy and counterfeiting rates", the Sultanate has made some progress to enhance its status as a supporter of IPR, the report said.

Released yesterday, the "2012 Special 301 Report" placed Brunei along with 25 other trade partners of the US in the middle of three tiers defined by the agency to categorise the severity of the IPR infringements.

Out of 77 trading partners included in the "Special 301 review process", 40 were listed in the "Priority Watch List" (13 trading partners), "Watch List" (26 trading partners) and "Section 306 Monitoring" (Only Paraguay).

Commending Brunei for the establishment of its first patent office and an association to protect the works of Bruneian artists, the USTR also expressed "concern" that the Sultanate has yet to make requested changes to certain IP-related laws, while problems with enforcement still exist.

"The United States remains concerned that Brunei has not enacted pending copyright amendments, and IPR enforcement authorities still lack ex-officio authority," the report said.

The USTR did, however, note some of the progress Brunei has made in the past year to strengthen IPR protection. "Brunei made progress in 2011 by establishing its first patent office, and authorities also recently issued notices warning some retailers to remove pirated and counterfeit goods."

"The United States hopes that such actions will lead to a significant and permanent reduction in Brunei's high piracy and counterfeiting rates."

The country summary also noted the establishment of the Bruneian Authors and Composers Association (BeAT), "which is actively negotiating with television and radio broadcasters for payment of music royalties due".

On top of educating the local business community on IPR, the agency called on the government to improve enforcement, "including by pursuing criminal prosecutions, imposing deterrent-level sentences, and ensuring that enforcement officials have adequate resources".

The US is keen on working with Brunei to address current issues, particularly through the TPP negotiations, the report added.

As one of the founding members of what was then known as the "P4" group of countries which included Singapore, Chile and New Zealand Brunei will have to meet "strong standards" in IPR protection and enforcement under the larger TPP deal being meted out in a series of negotiations between the P4 countries and the US, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

"The TPP negotiations have begun with this initial group of like-minded countries with the goal of creating a platform for integration across the region. The TPP will include strong standards for the protection and enforcement of IPR in the 21st Century."

The US also plans to work with a mix of the trading partners on "watch", including Brunei, to strengthen legal regimes and enhance enforcement to encourage strong action against Internet piracy.

"In particular, the United States will encourage trading partners to implement the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) Internet Treaties, which will provide, among other things, protection against the circumvention of technological protection measures."

In February, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) warned that Brunei will be placed on the list again because local authorities were unwilling to terminate trading licences of known pirate retailers.

The government was providing weak deterrents for IP violators, the report said, which also lamented sluggish court processes that can take several months to resolve a few copyright cases.

"The major problem is intermittent scheduling (the court only hears witnesses for two to three hours per day)" and that affidavit evidence and statutory declarations are not admissible, requiring copyright owners to travel all the way to Brunei to give testimony even in cases of small retailers. Ubaidillah Masli

The Brunei Times