SINGAPORE — Half-a-million counterfeit music cassettes were crushed by a bulldozer here in April as a battle against music pirates gained momentum.
Singapore, the world's leading producer of counterfeit tapes, is a haven for copyright pirates. But the clandestine industry is coming under increasing government pressure.
The public destruction of the cassettes was part of the latest anti-piracy campaign by the International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers, a London-based watchdog group that has spearheaded the fight for four years.
The Law Ministry has said it will revise its 74-year-old copyright laws to make them "more relevant to the sophisticated and technologically advanced Singapore of the 1990s."
Law Minister Edmund Barker said the revisions would be designed to safeguard intellectual property and encourage research and development by foreign high-technology firms.
His statement in March coincided with a ruling by the Singapore High Court that the old colonial Copyright Act still applied to works first published in Britain. Five British publishers won judgments against a Singapore bookseller for violation of copyright on some of their textbooks.
Publishers and music producers say they now expect tougher penalties to replace the current maximum fine of $1,000 and a year in jail for breach of copyright.
"We could solve the cassette problem here in two years with tougher legislation," said Nicholas Garnett, regional director of the watchdog group, which has confiscated millions of dollars worth of illegal tapes in more than 230 local raids since 1981.
Garnett said Singapore exported more than 35 million counterfeit tapes last year, making it the undisputed leader in music piracy. The practice resulted in receipts of more than $50 million for the pirates.
But millions more are passed off as legitimate blank-tape exports to lucrative markets in Africa and the Middle East.
Charity Record Copied
"We know of one Saudi Arabian who imports 500,000 cassettes every month from a Singapore manufacturer and stores them in huge warehouses," Garnett said.
Even a charity record produced to aid Ethiopian famine victims did not escape Singapore pirates. Thousands of the Band Aid group's "Do They Know It's Christmas" album were pirated and sold on the streets in Singapore before authorities stepped in.
Buoyed by advanced technology, lax laws and excellent port facilities, Singapore has edged ahead of Taiwan and Hong Kong in the export of pirated "intellectual properties."
Piracy Aids Economy
"There is book piracy in Taiwan, South Korea and Pakistan, but it is mostly confined within the countries," says Nicholas Thomson, former chairman of the Anti-Piracy Committee of Britain's Book Development Council.
Some recording companies and book publishers have accused the government in the past of turning a blind eye to the problem because the illegal industry earns foreign exchange and provides jobs for hundred of Singaporeans.
But the government is now worried that unchecked piracy, especially in computer software, could kill Singapore's dream of becoming a leading computer center by the turn of the century.
Authorities were not able to give figures of the extent of computer piracy, but a visiting U.S. official told reporters that American software firms were losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year because of large-scale piracy of their wares.
Computer giants IBM and Apple have already filed a total of 22 injunctions against local firms for copyright infringement, and IBM officials have vowed to take even more aggressive action in the future.