EU joining WTO China piracy complaint


BRUSSELS -- The European Union is adding its weight to Washington's piracy and counterfeiting complaint against China at the World Trade Organization, it emerged Tuesday.

The European Commission, which until now has sent mixed signals about joining the challenge, confirmed that it will act as a third party in the U.S. WTO suit. Mexico also said it will join as a third party.

The move signals the growing frustration of EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, who has visited China several times since taking up his post 2 1/2 years ago with little effect on China's illegal counterfeiting operations.

"We want to be involved in this case as we are hurt by counterfeiting and piracy just as much as anyone else, and music and film are particularly affected," Mandelson's spokesman Peter Power said. "This is obviously a hugely important case for us as well. But at the moment, the case is in a 60-day consultation phase, and we hope to get satisfaction by the end of this."

The EU imports more goods from China than the U.S. and is equally prone to counterfeit DVDs, CDs and computer software. Mandelson has consistently urged the Chinese authorities not only to enact tough laws but to implement them effectively across the country. But his patience appears to have run out.

Beijing insists it is making progress in stamping out pirate copying operations. Last week, a Chinese court ordered a Beijing company to pay 195,000 yuan ($25,000) in damages to six U.S. movie studios for selling pirated DVDs, the latest in a string of lawsuits over Chinese film piracy.

And last month, China's top court lowered the threshold to prosecute people who manufacture or sell counterfeit intellectual property products. The Supreme People's Court said anyone who manufactures 500 or more counterfeit copies of computer software, music, movies, TV series or other audio-video products can be prosecuted and sentenced to a prison term of up to three years.

Meanwhile, in the largest single crackdown on CD and DVD piracy in China's history, more than 1.8 million pirated discs were seized in a production factory in the city of Guangzhou in March.

But despite repeated police raids, hawkers of pirated discs re-emerge on Chinese streets as soon as an anti-piracy campaign begins to ebb. Courts around China settled 17,769 intellectual property rights protection cases in 2006. However, most of these were civil cases.

Last month, Washington sought consultations with Beijing over piracy and blocked access for U.S. films, music and software. U.S. movie, music and other intellectual property-based companies say they lost more than $2.6 billion in China last year because of pirates, who control as much as 90% of the market.