amendment poses threats
The government will soon have to consider an amendment that would block Internet
users’ access to foreign Web sites that contain unauthorized content or
infringements on the intellectual property of copyright holders. However,
netizens, experts and lawmakers are concerned that the legislation might
threaten Internet freedom and Internet-led innovation.
On Tuesday last week, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Intellectual Property
Office (IPO) announced it was proposing an amendment to the Copyright Act (著作權法)
that would allow the government to demand that local Internet service providers
(ISPs) help block copyright infringement from content on foreign Web sites.
According to IPO Director-General Wang Mei-hua (王美花), the legislation would give
the government the power to require local ISPs to blacklist Web sites deemed
undesirable by identifying their Internet protocol addresses. It would also give
the government the authority to request that ISPs disable access to suspicious
sites through a technology known as domain name service blocking, essentially
rendering the sites unusable.
The amendment, which the IPO plans to send to the legislature for review in the
next session and which could come into effect next year if it is approved, comes
amid continued complaints from copyright holders that movies and music are
available for download through file transfer protocol, peer-to-peer methods or
BitTorrent file-sharing services, before they are even officially released in
However, the IPO’s plan has raised concern among the public that it would give
the government the power to control and censor the Web. Netizens have also
questioned why the government has not tackled online piracy via judicial
cooperation with foreign governments, higher penalties for copyright
infringement or easier legal procedures for seeking compensation, but instead
has resorted to the lazy option of regulating the Internet for domestic users.
On Friday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said she
was worried about the IPO’s move, fearing that giving the government the
authority to block access to specific sites would “open a Pandora’s box” of
increased government intervention on the Internet. She likened the plan to the
establishment of something very similar to China’s abandoned Internet filtering
“Green Dam” project in Taiwan, saying that the government must invite Web
companies and Internet users to discuss the issue first, before sending the
draft amendment to the legislature.
Although the notion to help curb online piracy and protect intellectual property
rights is well-intended, the amendment to the Copyright Act must account for the
public’s concern about using political power to restrain Internet-based
communications and innovation. The IPO has said that there are several countries
mulling controls on the Internet to safeguard the rights of copyright holders
and content users. Equally, it must tell the public about any potential
consequences of the proposed amendment and how it would affect the openness of
the Internet and the rights of users.
At this point, it is anyone’s guess how exactly the amendment will impact online
development in Taiwan. However, what is sure is that it will expand the power of
the government to regulate the Internet and open the door for the government to
further censor the Web, either because of pressure from copyright holders or
because it chooses to do so. This issue needs to be addressed with extreme
caution and the passage of legislation should not be rushed.