BEIJING – China has extended criminal penalties for music and movie piracy to people caught with smaller amounts of DVDs or CDs, a state news agency said Friday, after foreign complaints that enforcement was too lenient.
The decision by the Supreme People's Court comes amid pressure by foreign governments and the film and music industries to stamp out China's rampant product piracy industry.
The court, in an order Thursday, cut in half the number of counterfeit DVDs, CDs or other audiovisual products that trigger criminal penalties of up to three years in prison, the Xinhua News Agency said. It said the court also raised fines for smaller offenders.
Anyone caught with 500 pirated discs will face criminal prosecution instead of fines, down from the previous 1,000 discs, Xinhua said. It said the number of discs that triggers more severe penalties of up to seven years in prison was cut in half to 2,500.
"The latest judicial change seems to be aimed at addressing overseas complaints that the country is too lenient" with pirates, Xinhua said. It said the new standards were "a stern warning" and said the number of cases is expected to rise.
China is regarded as one of the world's leading sources of illegally copied movies, music, designer clothing and other products.
The supreme court also told lower courts to start accepting piracy cases filed by companies and individuals in addition to those brought by prosecutors, Xinhua said.
Fines for piracy were raised to up to 15 times a pirate's illegal gains, up from double their revenues, the report said. It gave no monetary figures for how much the new fines might be.
Industry groups and foreign governments have been pressing Beijing to lower the threshold for criminal prosecution, saying letting small traders get away with paying fines fails to discourage piracy.
The director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Jon Dudas, visited Beijing last month and said he pressed Chinese officials to lower the threshold for prosecution.
The government is in the midst of an anti-piracy crackdown that is to last through May, Xinhua said. It quoted a notice sent to police forces as saying "the fight against piracy was still very arduous, and should be a priority."
This week, the government said police in the southern city of Guangzhou carried out China's biggest seizure of pirated DVDs and CDs to date, seizing 1.8 million discs on March 17.
Police arrested 13 people and seized 30 machines used to produce discs, the government said. Industry officials say the seizure of such production lines is critical.