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China Says Fast Growth of Internet Use Makes Online Copyright Protection Difficult

A Chinese official has reported progress in cracking down on the illegal downloading of movies, music and software from the Internet. But he says the country's fast-growing use of the Internet has made fighting online piracy difficult. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Yan Xiaohong, the deputy director of China's Copyright Administration, had some good news Thursday for owners of intellectual property. Yan says his administration's investigation of 436 suspected cases of online piracy from September to January resulted in the closure of 205 illegal websites, the seizure of 71 illegal servers, and about $90,000 in fines.

He says that in 361 cases, Web sites were ordered to stop infringement. Another six cases were sent to criminal court, but only one of those cases resulted in a criminal conviction.

China has been criticized for punishing copyright violators only with small fines, making such penalties simply a cost of doing business instead of a deterrent.

Yan says he understands why those whose copyrights have been violated want China to impose higher penalties. But he says it was up to the legislature to determine fines. His department just administers the law, he says - which is not easy given the explosive growth of Internet use in the country.

"Given the fast development, I am afraid it is the same in China and other countries, administering the Internet is a drawn-out process. I am afraid that to expect to achieve a very ideal level in a very short time span does not conform to the actual situation now," he said.

China's Internet usage is the second largest in the world. Official figures show about 843,000 Chinese Web sites. One hundred forty million people regularly go online, many of them to download copyrighted materials illegally.

China has increased cooperation with foreign companies, whose profits largely depend on copyright protection, to fight online piracy.

Yan says about 130 of the cases were investigated at the request of overseas industry associations.

He declined to estimate the number of Chinese Web sites that may be operating illegal download services. But he says even after being caught, it is easy for violators to open a new Web site under a different name.