Almost without exception, businesses across all industries have largely or entirely moved away from traditional retail models in favor of online platforms. Businesses built on illegal intellectual property (IP) infringement are no exception. Throughout the world, online infringement of copyrights, trademarks, and even patents is a problem on the rise, one which is not going away on its own; from the uploading and downloading of pirated movies or the streaming of pirated music to the unauthorized use of famous characters and photos and the sale of counterfeit products via website and social media. Further compounding the problem is the fact that, unlike operators of brick-and-mortar shops, many online infringers can fake or hide their identities, thereby making it much more difficult for rights owners and government officials to trace the sources of intellectual property infringement. In many jurisdictions, there is currently very little that can be done to combat these limitations.
Change may be on the horizon in Thailand, however. As previously mentioned in the December 2016 issue of our Client Alert, the Amendment to the Thai Computer Crime Act (the Amendment) was approved by the National Legislation Assembly in December 2016. The Amendment was since published in the Government Gazette on 24 January 2017 and will officially become law in May 2017. Among the numerous provisions set forth in the Amendment, Section 20 is aimed in part at reducing incidents of online infringement. We hope this provision will prove to be a significant addition to the tools available to IP rights owners fighting this problem. The Amendment broadly empowers qualified officials to petition the courts to block computer data that infringes on IP rights. In the event that the court grants such a petition, that official may independently take steps to enforce the block while also compelling internet service providers to assist in the effort. Effectively, being able to enforce a block in this way means that a rights owner will have the ability to entirely shut down an infringer's website, cutting off profit channels and making it much more difficult for the infringer to continue its illegal operations.
By empowering officials as described above, the Amendment markedly expands and strengthens the mechanisms available to rights owners seeking to enforce those rights against websites and service providers engaging in or permitting IP infringement. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, it reflects a renewed commitment by the Thai legal system to address problems related to the increased consumption and exploitation of online content. Hopefully this mechanism can reduce the number of IP violations in Thailand and perhaps even lead to the country’s eventual removal from the Priority Watch List by the United States Trade Representative (USTR).