In 2019, an amendment to Taiwan's Copyright Law was made to combat set-top boxes and programs used for copyright infringement. A new clause (Clause 8) was added to the list in Article 87 delineating activities deemed to be copyright infringement by the law:

"Article 87(1)(8). One who intends to facilitate the public to access publicly broadcast or transmitted contents that infringe on copyrights, and knowingly (a) offers the public a software that collects IP addresses of the said infringing contents, (b) instructs or assists the public to use, or presets path for the public to access the said software, or (c) manufactures, imports, or sells an equipment or device containing the said software, shall be deemed as infringing copyrights, suppose he or she receives benefits from such conduct." (the writer's translation)

For more information about this amendment, please refer to our earlier post here.

The IP Community generally agrees that, despite this amendment, users of infringing set-top boxes are not deemed copyright infringers. However, this theory does not quell the concerns of the general public, since transmission of infringing content is, in a sense, triggered by a user's order. This topic has resurfaced with the recent 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

During the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Taiwanese athletes recorded the highest Olympic medal count in Taiwan's history, with superb performances in events such as weightlifting, table tennis, badminton, gymnastics, archery, judo, and karate. The national pride thus prompted a social media trend to share selfies against live broadcast games where Taiwan's athletes fetched medals. This trend was further fanned by the mere one-hour time difference between Taiwan and Japan, making the games all the more acessible to Taiwanese audience. However, as is so often the case, many embarrassing information was also revealed online along with such excitement. For instance, in a celebrity's selfie, netizens spotted that the TV screen behind him showed not only Taiwan's medal-winning moment, but also a noticeable news ticker that did not appear on the local channel licensed to broadcast the Olympic Games. The celebrity immediately apologized and confessed that he used a set-top box to watch the games.

According to media reports, copyright-infringing software is rarely found in these problematic set-top boxes; as such, it is questionable to say that these set-top boxes are themselves illegal. However, through indirect, less obvious means, users are guided to download sites to load programs. Through these programs, the set-top boxes can be connected to platforms and receive unauthorized stream videos from them. Unsurprisingly, most of these websites are located outside of Taiwan, which means local suppliers of these set-top boxes might play just a marginal role in this transnational copyright infringement scheme. International cooperation, ergo, is required to combat such transnational infringements.

In a public statement, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) reiterated that users who purchase illegal set-top boxes for simple joy of watching videos are not copyright infringers. This, of course, refers to users who view such videos in private, since watching infringing content in public may engender other copyright issues (this situation might concern "public forwarding right;" for more information, please refer to our earlier post here).

Despite the difficulties of curbing infringement on the user-side, the TIPO and the National Communications Commission (NCC, the government agency regulating set-top boxes) nonetheless resort to moral suasion, posting on social media to remind the public that just because a set-top box has been approved by the NCC does not mean it cannot be misused to facilitate copyright infringement.  At the same time, NCC also cautions lawbreakers not to underestimate the Taiwan government's determination to fight copyright piracy linked to set-top boxes. As the Copyright Law provides, Article 87.1.8 infringement is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to NT$500,000.

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