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US agents help unmask local intellectual-property pirates

AMERICAN authorities are now helping agents of the inter-agency Pilipinas Anti-Piracy Team (PAPT) in identifying and confiscating counterfeit items in different malls in the country.

The US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has partnered with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) on recent cases in the Philippines to help identify potential violators of intellectual-property laws and ensure that appropriate action is taken.

“Punitive actions could be taken that may include criminal prosecution or administrative sanctions or both that could affect eligibility for a US visa or even the revocation of an existing US visa should an individual be  found guilty of violating intellectual-property law,” PAPT said.

Director General Ricardo Blancaflor of the IPOPHL said these kinds of sanctions by the US government can help protect intellectual-property rights (IPR) in the Philippines. “We at IPOPHL have continuously implemented various education and enforcement initiatives to highlight the importance of IPR in the country.”

Mitchell Worley, HSI attaché in the country, said US President Barack Obama has emphasized Washington’s commitment to ensure a level playing field by not tolerating unfair business practices such as piracy and counterfeiting.

“This is why we have taken this step to deter piracy and counterfeiting, and emphasize the importance of IP across all industries.  After all, software piracy is a crime and we aim to keep software criminals out of the United States,” he said. Blancaflor said different countries around the globe are strengthening their initiatives to reinforce IPR protection.

In the Philippines the National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights, led by the IPOPHL, has reported that through the various efforts of enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Customs , National Bureau of Investigation and the National Police, the seizure of counterfeit products in the first three quarters of 2012 has decreased by 20 percent compared to the same period in 2011. This translates to a combined P4.126 billion worth of fake products confiscated from January to September this year.

The PAPT, formed in 2005, is comprised of the NBI, Optical Media Board (OMB), the National Police and the IPOPHL to establish an integrated and coordinated effort by the government to counteract the negative effects of software piracy in the local information-technology industry and the economy.

In PAPT’s recent operations with US authorities in various retail shops in Metro Manila, more than P70 million worth of pirated discs were seized and alleged infringers were subjected to criminal prosecution.

The OMB, one of the members of PAPT, conducted a sweep on pirated disc retailers on Taft Avenue and Recto in Manila, Taguig City, and Marikina City in November. Included in the malls raided were Tutuban Center Mall, University Mall, Isetann, Market! Market! and Marikina Riverbanks.

A total of 70 sacks, or roughly 28,000 pieces, of counterfeit discs were seized, with an estimated retail value of P70 million. The pirated discs contained movies, games, music and computer programs, many of which were Microsoft products, including various versions of Windows, Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, Microsoft Office Project, SQL server and Xbox games.

“We are aware that many consumers are attracted to low-priced merchandise such as optical media, especially during this period that they tend to overlook the fact that these items are counterfeit products. People neglect the consequences of utilizing pirated goods such as software, which only cause more harm than good,” said lawyer Cyrus Valenzuela, the OMB Executive Director who spearheaded the operations. They were also joined by US law-enforcement officials from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement  and HSI to observe the clamping down on software pirates.

“Software piracy is a violation of the Copyright Provisions of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines [Republic Act 8293] and the Optical Media Act [RA 9239]. This subjects violators to criminal sanctions of up to nine years of imprisonment and a fine of up to P1.5 million,” Valenzuela said.

In separate operation conducted by the NBI also in November, four computer dealers in Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan City were also found accountable for software infringement. A total of eight laptops carrying the brands Samsung, Lenovo, Acer and HP, three pirated installers, one desktop and four flash drives—all of which contained infringing Microsoft programs—were seized.

“There are no benefits in pirated software.  It is unreliable as it contains malware, which exposes users to identity and information theft and loss of data. In an even more serious note, it harms the Philippine economy in revenue losses, lower tax collections for the government and diminished job opportunities for Filipinos. Our efforts here are geared toward endorsing the use of only genuine software,” said NBI Intellectual Property Rights Division chief Rommel Vallejo.  “We urge Filipinos to make use of licensed software only, as doing otherwise deprives the economy of hundreds of millions of pesos in tax revenue, while jobs are lost in the country’s IT ecosystem.”

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