Brunei Darussalam: Retail anti-piracy drive

Retailers in Brunei Darussalam are being urged to step up their role in the battle against piracy as reforms targeting the sale of illegal counterfeits gain pace. The Sultanate hopes a nationwide crackdown, together with an anti-piracy awareness campaign, will prove instrumental in improving both the investment environment and retailers’ bottom lines. However, critics say there is still room to strengthen legislation and the enforcement drive.

In December 2012, the Recording Industry of Malaysia (RIM) recommended that Brunei Darussalam be removed from the US Trade Representative’s “Special 301 Watch List”, which covers violations of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

RIM backed up its recommendation by citing recent raids carried out by the Sultanate’s authorities on vendors of pirated recordings in the capital. The clampdown came after Brunei Darussalam moved to shore up IPR protection last May by setting up both a patents office and the Bruneian Authors and Composers Association, which collects royalties for local artists. New rules introduced under a Copyright Order issued last spring also mean vendors caught selling infringing material can now be sent to prison for up to six months and fined $5000.

Just one week before the measures were implemented, Brunei, together with 25 other US trading partners, was placed in the second of the watch list’s three tiers, which graded levels of IPR infringements for 2012.

While the US commended Brunei Darussalam for setting up its first patent office and an association to protect artists, Washington expressed “concern” that the Sultanate had yet to make requested changes to some IPR-related laws, adding that enforcement problems in the Sultanate still needed addressing.

The anti-piracy drive also came in for criticism from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) in a report issued last February, which described the government’s efforts to deter IP violators as weak. In addition, the IIPA expressed its frustration that copyright cases could sometimes take several months to be resolved in court.

“Brunei Darussalam has the eighth-highest per capita income in the world (purchasing power parity of $51,600 as of 2011) but unfortunately the country still hosts dozens of retail outlets offering for sale pirated movies, music and software on optical discs,” wrote the IIPA.

On a broader scale, the 2012 Investment Climate Statement issued by the US State Department said it believed pirated and fake goods originating in neighbouring countries were “widely sold” due to a “perceived lack of right holder’s complaints”. It added that while music piracy had been significantly reduced, “movie and software entertainment piracy is still rampant”.

Figures indicate that piracy has cost the US some $16bn annually in recent years and the Sultanate around BND500,000 ($403,000). With Brunei’s retail sector expanding, having posted growth of 0.7% year-on-year (y-o-y) for the first quarter of 2012, observers suggest that storeowners could make a major contribution in the drive to stamp out fake goods.

A survey by RIM in October 2011 found that about 50 retail outlets in the Sultanate were selling pirated movies, music and software in the form of DVDs, VCDs and CDs. The Commercial Crime Unit and Royal Brunei Customs are expected to play an increased role in policing retail centres and goods coming into the country. Last year, the Sultanate made its first successful copyright infringement prosecution in a landmark case that saw the owner of Yajuta Company Yong Teck Sang, also known as Kedai Komunis, convicted of selling pirated music.

With the impact of illegal music, film and software downloads weighing increasingly heavily on the retail sector, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are also being urged to contribute to the national piracy clampdown.

In June, Nur Al Ain Dr Hj Abdullah, the deputy senior counsel at the IP division of the Attorney General’s Chambers, told the Brunei Times that ISPs had an obligation to curb illegal downloading by policing their networks and introducing measures to prevent subscribers from illegally downloading copyrighted material.

The government’s efforts have been acknowledged by international software giant Microsoft. “We believe that Brunei has achieved a major milestone this year,” Azizah Ali, Microsoft Brunei’s branch manager told the Brunei Times. “The launch of the Patent Registry Office and its activities in driving to increase awareness, and also the crackdown by the municipalities on piracy nationwide, is actually great for the country as well as Microsoft.”

While Brunei Darussalam’s efforts to crack down on media piracy in 2012 signal a step in the right direction, the introduction of more stringent legal and regulatory measures may well enhance the country’s image abroad, helping to support its broader aim of increasing foreign direct investment this year.

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