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Stricter IP Laws in Thailand – A new beginning

For quite some years now, pirated goods (mainly music, movies and fake branded goods) have been wrecking havoc on Thailand’s economy, growing from strength to strength, and stifling the organized industry. The Thai government, on its part, has been drawing a lot of flak for its failure to ensure IP protection. According to a recent report, things had come to such a pass that as many as 30 music companies finally closed shop, unable to hold anymore against the widespread availability of much cheaper pirated music in the market.

Stung by the ensuing bad press, the Thai government finally decided to crackdown on pirated goods, in all earnest. Widespread raids were carried out in Bangkok and other big cities across the country. In one suburb in the capital, approximately 40000 copies of pirated music and movies were seized in a single raid. In a further attempt to improve its image, the government decided to take action against the buyers of pirated products as well.  This long deliberated move is not only intended to avoid breach of copyright and trademark laws but also meant to deter the populace from indulging in such acts. Of course it would help boost Government revenues as well, increasing sales of genuine products that contribute to the exchequer through taxes and duties.

The current law only stipulates punishment for the producers and sellers of pirated products. There is nothing to deter buyers and facilitators of such products. With the ever- increasing demand for these counterfeit and pirated goods, the present law has completely failed to check the current boom in illegal trade. The new proposal has its roots in the widely espoused theory – ‘when the buying stops, the production automatically stops too’. The move is modeled on the prevalent practice in France and Italy, home to several internationally renowned and iconic brands, to penalize and prosecute buyers and processors of goods which carry fake trademarks. The Thai plan also includes amending its current laws, the Copyright Act of 1994 and the Trademark Act of 1991, to penalize lessors of any property that is being used to manufacture, store or sell products that violate copyrights and trademark laws.

In the proposed amendment draft to the 1994 Copyright Act, buyers of pirated copies of music or movies would be seen as committing copyright infringement and could be subject to a maximum fine of 1,000 Thai baht (about US$29) or perform community service. Lessors of property used in the acts of piracy, could also be slapped with an imprisonment term of three months to two years, or a fine of 50,000 baht to 400,000 baht (about US$1,470 to $11,760), or both.

In the proposed amendment draft to the Trademark Act of 1991, buyers of products with counterfeit trademark also could be subject to a maximum fine of 1,000 baht or do community service. For lessors of property used for manufacturing, storing or selling of products with a counterfeit trademark, they could be subject to an imprisonment term of two to four years, or a fine of 200,000 to 400,000 baht (US$5,880 to US$11,760), or both. A minimum punishment of two years and a minimum fine of 200,000 baht have also been proposed for any counterfeiting of trademarks. Currently, the Act does not specify any minimum penalty. There is only a maximum imprisonment term of four years and a maximum fine of 400,000 baht. Those who imitate a registered trademark with the intention to deceive the public could now be subjected to a minimum jail term of six months and a minimum fine of 50,000 baht ($1,470). At present, the Act only sets the maximum term of two years in jail and 200,000 baht in fine.

Once these provisions are drafted into laws, lessors in Thailand are expected to add another clause to their leasing agreements, which would prohibit use of their premises to manufacture, store or sell pirated products.

The present Thai government seems to be keen on preventing IPR violations and make up for past vacillation. As a first step in this direction, a National Committee for the Prevention and Suppression of Violations of Intellectual Property has been proposed to be chaired by no less than the Thai Prime Minister himself. The draft proposal is currently awaiting approval of the cabinet and the parliament before becoming law.

A new beginning in IP protection seems to be round the corner.