Intellectual Property Concerns

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Copyright piracy is a matter of concern in the sultanate, according to industry experts, but officials maintain that both legislation and available resources are up to the job of providing copyright protection.

"The Attorney General's Chambers has available prosecutors to take proper cases to court, and has done so before. [The office] also has an open door policy to rights holders, [who] have approached to discuss possible actions and remedies," Dato Seri Paduka Hj Kifrawi bin Dato Paduka Hj Kifli, Brunei's attorney general, said in an address on March 18.

However, enforcement agencies and prosecutors wishing to initiate appropriate action faced a number of difficulties, the attorney general said. One challenge was the low number of rights holders present in the sultanate who could actually lodge a complaint, while another was an apparent reluctance to utilise Customs authorities to halt the flow of illegal material into the country.

Such concerns are increasing in the sultanate, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which represents US copyright-based industries, recently recommended that the US government place Brunei on its watch list of countries that had high rates of copyright piracy.

In its 2008 report, the IIPA said the level of music piracy in Brunei was around 99% of all material sold in the sultanate, while for the level for home videos and CDs was between 90% and 95%.

The report said there were up to 200 retail shops selling pirated optical disc media in fixed locations throughout Brunei, most located in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Though the IIPA said Brunei had adequate copyright legislation, it said the resources to enforce these laws were limited, with just seven officers serving in the sultanate's Commercial Crime Unit (CCU), and a lack of initiative by other agencies to act against copyright infringers.

The report also expressed concern that Brunei had now become a dealer in pirated materials, not just a consumer. "Of great concern, pirates in Brunei now produce discs for export, transported by road to Sarawak, Malaysia," it said.

The IIPA recommended that the CCU carry out sweeping raids on the pirate retail market and establish a core group of officers to respond to industry concerns and complaints lodged by right holders. It also suggested having the attorney general's chambers work with the CCU and police to develop target cases for prosecution; as well as further strengthening legislation against copyright infringement.

Arjuna Ranasinghe, the general manager of Tech Distribution, which delivers Microsoft products in Brunei, said more needed to be done to reinforce the concept of intellectual property rights before enforcement could be truly effective.

"Before we can even talk about enforcement there should be some sort of awareness programmes out there," he said in an interview with local press on March 24. "With regards to intellectual property the awareness amongst the public is there, but it is not taken seriously yet."

Others have suggested that a lack of proper products on the market may be part of the problem. QQeStore, an online retailer in Brunei, said sales of original software products were actually increasing and many customers had asked for genuine items, especially as these products often cannot be updated unless they are purchased legally.

"One of the reasons customers go for non-original software is simply because they are not able to find the genuine copies in the shops," store officials told local press.

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