Karaoke is popular in many Asian countries, including Taiwan, and the market for karaoke equipment is highly competitive. One of the main costs in the industry is the royalties for the songs contained within the karaoke machine, prompting many to get around these costs by pirating music. Legislation and legal departments are trying to eliminate this kind of crime, which is becoming smarter with technological developments.

In Taiwan, Thunderstone Technology Ltd, a Chinese set-top box company, is facing multiple charges under Article 87 of the Copyright Act, which aims to combat the rise in online piracy. In order to block the use of piracy websites more comprehensively, the courts have recently begun to look at karaoke devices, which have been placed in the provisions of Article 87(1.8) of the Copyright Ac amended in May 2019.

Thunderstone is the largest karaoke service provider in China and the person in charge of the Taiwanese branch was prosecuted in early September 2020. The company is charged with manufacturing karaoke devices that can access unauthorised cloud playlists, which is prohibited by the new law. According to the indictment, there is no controversy with the machine itself. Nevertheless, applications installed on it can still access websites that often contain unauthorised media content. Since Thunderstone installs these apps in the machines, it is undoubtedly liable for property infringement.

“The case that karaoke devices via the cloud that have not yet obtained authorized songs is a new type of copyright infringement,” said Mao Hao Gi, the supervisor of the copyright department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. He states that there is no relevant domestic case law in this area so far.

Previous copyright infringement cases have mainly focused on the reproduction, public performance and public transmission of unauthorised music. However, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO), which is part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, amended the provisions of Article 87(1(8)) of the Copyright Act last year, which was later approved by the Legislative Yuan.

Under the new law, organising, selling and sharing links to unauthorised media content for profit, or selling set-up boxes that could connect to unauthorised sites is considered to be wrongdoing. In addition, these acts may also lead to a sentence of up to two years imprisonment or a fine up to a maximum of NT$500,000 as per Article 93.

As the process of authorising intellectual property across several countries can be complicated and contentious, the case has garnered much attention in the karaoke service industry. However, the crucial factor determining copyright infringement depends on the evidence provided by both parties. Thus, this case is bound to cause a wave of legal battles. If the person in charge of Thunderstone is found guilty, this lawsuit will be the first infringement case involving karaoke in Taiwan.

Jane CC Wang, Han-Wei Lin

Formosa Transnational

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