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Thailand Seeks to Strengthen Copyright Law

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BANGKOK – Thailand is looking to overhaul its two-decade-old copyright law to speed up removal of illegal online content and extend copyright protections for creative work.

The proposed law would require internet service providers, from web hosts to search engines, to set policies that would block users who repeatedly post stolen material. Internet companies would have to enact standard technical measures to detect infringing content. It also would grant copyrights for the life of the owner plus 50 years. The existing 1994 Copyright Act protects works 50 years from the date of creation.

Thailand’s Commerce Ministry said it expects a cabinet vote this month on the measure, which would go to the National Legislative Assembly, if it’s approved, and then to the king for his signature.

The measure is part of Thailand’s bid to join the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Copyright Treaty. Thailand wants to join so that its citizens’ copyrights are safeguarded abroad. But current Thai laws don’t comply with all treaty requirements, such as the need to apply technical measures to detect illegal content.

The proposed changes “are designed to ensure that ISPs are not intentionally reproducing or distributing pirated content on their systems before they are granted limited liability,” Ploynapa Julagasigorn, an intellectual property attorney at Tilleke & Gibbins in Bangkok, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

Much of the proposed amendment was modeled on the U.S.’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act , said Alec Wheatley, a Tilleke & Gibbins consultant. That includes the provisions on technical measures and safe harbor, which shields service providers from most lawsuits based on copyright violations, he said.
Lobbying Effort

Under the existing copyright act, musicians and other creators must ask a Thai court to order illegally downloaded files to be deleted, then bring the takedown order to the service provider within a fixed time frame set by the court.

The time limit is a problem because rights holders don’t always know every website that has pirated their intellectual property, said Say Sujintaya, regional chairwoman of Baker McKenzie’s intellectual property group in Asia. There was a “tremendous lobbying effort to amend the legislation,” she told Bloomberg Law in a phone interview.

Lobbyists wanted a faster way to remove content without time restrictions. The proposed revisions would provide both solutions. Rights holders could go straight to internet service providers to delete infringing material — without a court order — while ISPs would secure a U.S.-style safe harbor from infringement lawsuits. This would mean that service providers expunge content first, then respond to any appeals.

The proposed change would “enhance the confidence of copyright owners and creators that their works will be efficiently protected,” Nontaya Chulajata, an associate at IP law firm Rouse in Bangkok, told Bloomberg Law in an email. The e-commerce sector would benefit, as people become motivated to create products and services that can be sold over the internet, she said.

E-commerce would get a further boost because the revised act would remove some of the risk of doing business online, Wheatley said. Specifically, service providers receiving safe harbor would not incur as many legal costs to defend against infringement claims.

“Ideally, this limited liability will encourage more entities to enter the market to offer online services for the benefit of all,” Wheatley said.

Not everyone supports the proposed changes. Thailand would “abdicate its regulatory responsibility to investigate complaints” if it jettisons the need for court orders, said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. He warned that people would abuse the new law to scrape the internet of content they don’t like.

“There’s no doubt that skipping due process to allow self-interested parties to demand takedowns of internet content will quickly cross over and impair freedom of expression,” he told Bloomberg Law in an email. “I predict this will quickly slide into much more worrisome online censorship.”

By Lien Hoang
Bloomberg