ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43
Financial Times  

Even papadam brands are copied

Stealing ideas is making Sri Lankan society poorer

By Dilshani Samaraweera

From papadam to pop music, the habit of stealing other people’s ideas is making Sri Lankan society poorer, says the National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO). “People don’t understand the adverse effects of intellectual property theft on national creativity, tax revenue, and even public health,” said the Director General of the NIPO, Dr D M Karunaratne, speaking at the launch of a public campaign to protect intellectual property last week.

Intellectual property is generally the expression of creative or innovative ideas. Creative ideas can be expressed through plays, songs, music, films, books, designs and even trade marks or brand names. Theft of intellectual property generally means to use these creative expressions for commercial gain without the idea-owner’s permission and without making any payments to the owner of the idea.

One of the most common forms of intellectual property theft is ‘pirated’ songs and movies. In such cases another person’s creativity, time and effort is stolen or pirated, for others to make money. Another common form of intellectual property violation is the illegal use of high quality trade marks or brand names on look-a-like goods that are generally of lower quality than the original.

These pirated or fake goods however, are also much cheaper than original goods. This is because sellers of such goods do not put their own time, money and effort into creating the products. Fakes are also not produced and sold through legal routes and therefore do not pay government taxes. So pirates can sell at a much lower price and still make huge profits because their cost of production and marketing is minimal.

Hurting local creativity
The NIPO office says that the most badly hurt from such intellectual property theft is local individuals and small local companies.
Foreign companies can afford to spend huge amounts of money tracking down and taking legal action against pirates. But local companies and creative local individuals cannot afford to do so. Very often Sri Lankans do not even know about intellectual property laws available in the country.

The NIPO says theft of intellectual property is hurting local companies through market and income losses and could even hurt consumers. “It is not just big companies. Recently I got a complaint from a small papadam manufacturer because someone is illegally using his papadam brand name. They have stolen his brand name and his market because he has built a reputation for a quality product,” said Karunaratne.

“But what our consumers don’t understand is that when they buy fake papadam they may be eating some junk, instead of good quality papadam,” said Karunaratne. Intellectual property theft is also identified as the main cause for lack of creativity and growth in the local entertainment industries. Because any new songs, films and books are promptly pirated, the actual artiste cannot make a living through his or her ideas. But in countries where intellectual property is better protected artistes become millionaires through their work and this generates industries and new jobs.

NIPO says continued theft of ideas actually kills overall national creativity. “We are keen that the intellectual property system be used as a mechanism of development, poverty alleviation and consumer protection. We are conducting various programmes to raise awareness but we need collective action by the entire society to contain this situation. We also need intellectual property owners to become more proactive,” said Karunaratne.

Public losses
Last week the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in collaboration with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the NIPO launched a public awareness campaign on intellectual property. The US trade chamber says that industries like pharmaceuticals, garments, motor spare parts, entertainment and software industries incur enormous losses to reputation and profit due to intellectual property rights theft. In some cases, says the trade chamber intellectual property theft, even endangers the public.

“If you buy spare parts for your car and they are not originals it could lead to accidents and even death. A shocking number of fake pharmaceuticals are received each year. So consumers and patients, unable to differentiate, end up paying exorbitant prices on worthless products which can actually cause harm to one’s health,” explained the executive director of the AMCHAM, Gordon Glick. In addition to losses to American companies, AMCHAM says that the Sri Lankan government is losing millions of rupees in taxes because illegal goods don’t pay taxes. The money from these illegal goods, says AMCHAM, goes back to finance more illegal activity.

“Intellectual property rights violation is theft. So when you buy pirated CDs, DVDs and software you are supporting criminal activity.
What most people don’t realise is that these violations fund various criminal activities, deprive the nation of much needed tax revenue and employment opportunities and often do more harm than good,” said Glick. The US and local trade chambers are now asking law enforcement agencies like customs and police, to effectively enforce Sri Lanka’s intellectual property laws.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.