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Trashed DVDs Offer a Lesson on IP Comms

BANGKOK – The furore over a Thai trash collector’s treatment at the hands of the authorities over a few pirated DVDs he found in his pickings and decided to sell has brought into focus the very real challenge of enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.

Since the case of Mr. Surat Maneenoprattanasuda, a scavenger who was arrested for selling pirated DVDs he found in the trash, first surfaced on the front pages of the mass-circulation Thai Rath newspaper, the Thai media has covered the story exhaustively, generating dozens of newspaper articles, editorials and TV segments.

Even in Thailand, where news related to intellectual property rights appears in the press almost daily, this case stuck a special chord with the public.

While the trash collector’s plight has become something of a cause celebre in Thailand, it sheds light on the immense chasm that exists between those who fight for intellectual property rights and those who reckon there is nothing wrong with piracy – as long as you don’t get caught.

For professional communicators the molehill of the trash collector and his DVDs is actually a mountain. For decades intellectual property campaigns have striven to convince a sceptical public that a country is judged by its IPR protections and ability to eradicate piracy in all forms. These campaigns rightly emphasize the long-term economic damage caused by a framework in which the creations of innovators—be they home-grown or international—are extensively counterfeited.

Thailand, like many developing countries around the world, is faced with a monumental resistance. How do you convince people to pay for the genuine article when a quick trip to an IT mall or down Silom Road will allow one to rustle up the self-same DVD or computer software for a fraction of the price of the genuine article?

For communicators the mission is complex. How do you turn the tide of public apathy against intellectual property theft without alienating stakeholder groups because of isolated incidents such as the prosecution of the hapless Thai trash collector?

The key is economics and education.

The reality is that there is a clear link between reducing piracy rates and economic growth. Entrepreneurs and businesses that create intellectual property have an immense challenge in markets where their products are openly pirated. Businesses in countries with strong intellectual property rights regimes have a clear advantage in a global economy where innovation is key.

From an educational standpoint, every company that produces a product with inherent intellectual property characteristics should have a communications and education programme in place that engages all of its stakeholders, from customers to competitors to legislators.

Many companies, particularly in emerging markets, don’t see it as their obligation to fight piracy, believing that it is something the police and legal authorities should be doing.

But it is only with business community support and investment that the war against piracy can be won, or partially won.

Companies need to firstly educate their own staff, teaching them about the arcane processes of intellectual property protection and empowering them to ensure there are no transgressions.

Part of the education process must also involve senior management, many of whom don’t believe IT piracy issues are their problem. Education also starts at the top.

For the public at large, communications campaigns must be as direct and straightforward as can be. Maybe using the trash collector as the poster boy victim would be a start, getting him, in his own words, to teach the parables of non-compliance. He is something of a folk hero, and this status could be leveraged for good.

Piracy is theft. The average citizen wouldn’t dream of walking into a shop and trousering a couple of DVDs or CDs. But that is exactly what we do when we buy a pirated item. We steal from the people whose creativity went into the creation of the product, be they singers, movie stars, couturiers or software developers.

The big picture of this scourge is that countries do themselves no favours by not stamping out intellectual property theft in its entirety. Foreign investors simply don’t feel comfortable with technology transfers and the sharing of intellectual property if there is a general climate of apathy surrounding IP protection in the host country.

Countries such as Japan have justly earned the reputation for zero-tolerance or IP infringements, and while it may still be possible to buy pirated material in the country, the high-profile crack downs of past have gone a long way to reducing the incidence of IP infringement.

One opportunity for companies to integrate IP protection into their corporate philosophy lies in dovetailing IP campaigns into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and programmes. Like quality assurance, IP protection can become integral to a company’s way of doing business.

Devising and implementing a sustainable intellectual property communications policy requires the engagement of all tiers of company management, and the professional involvement of communications practitioners.

By setting new benchmarks for IP protection and sharing this with all stakeholders through bespoke communications programmes, companies can further boost their corporate images.

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