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Taiwan 'MTV' Films Rile U.S. Producers

April 08, 1989|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

Lin Chi-min, another official at Taiwan's Coordination Council for North American Affairs, acknowledged that some of the MTV videos are pirated. Nevertheless, he and other Taiwanese officials insist that most videos are purchased legitimately and their use by MTVs is legal.

"It's like Erol's," said Lin, referring to a Washington-based videotape rental chain. "Once (an MTV proprietor) purchases a videotape, he can rent it to anyone he wants. Different people can view the thing in different ways."

U.S. government officials and film industry executives disagree. They contend that the use of videotapes by MTV customers constitutes a public performance. Under U.S. law, public performances require the permission of the copyright owner.

"They are displaying these films publicly without authorization," declared Fritz Attaway of the film export association. "These rooms hold anywhere from two to 40 people."

Taiwanese officials insist that watching a video inside a closed room at an MTV is as private as watching it inside a hotel room. "Once the door is shut, only the customer and his best friend or family can view the tape," Lin said. "It's not shown in the store itself. It's shown in a private room."

In a test case filed by American film distributors, a Taiwanese district court ruled last summer that showing a videotape in an MTV does not constitute a public performance. The ruling is being appealed.

Meanwhile, American film-industry officials have asked the Bush Administration to consider invoking trade sanctions against Taiwanese products exported to the United States if the country fails to curb MTVs. Taiwanese and U.S. officials have had several rounds of MTV talks, but they have failed to settle the controversy.

Taiwanese officials said they have agreed to eventually change Taiwan's copyright laws. "When we revise the law, we will take into consideration the American position on public performances," said Eric C.C. Chiang, a Taiwanese press officer.

U.S. trade officials argue that such promises aren't good enough. They want Taiwan to do something now, rather than waiting the year or so it would take to change the law.

American film executives, noting that Taiwan is among the top 25 foreign markets for U.S. movies, agree that the situation is too serious to postpone a solution.

"If we wait until 1990, there will be a couple of thousand MTVs," said Morgan.

"What MTVs mean is simply the demise of the exhibition market on Taiwan. We (the U.S. film industry) are the No. 2 export product of the United States, behind aviation. And they (Taiwan) now operate under a set of laws that make it impossible for us to do business there."

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