Taiwan's legislature has passed changes to the country's Copyright Law, making unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content via peer-to-peer networks a criminal offense for the first time.

Passage of the amendments by Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in Taipei resolves a long domestic dispute over the legal status of P2P services, which have claimed they merely provide platforms for users to exchange files, as opposed to directly distributing copyrighted content.

The revisions to the 1928 Copyright Law are expected to come into effect by the end of June. They state that P2P operators providing software allowing the unauthorized copying or transmission of intellectual property such as music are infringing copyright.

The amendments, which were voted through late on June 14, provide for a maximum two years in prison or a maximum fine of $500,000 Taiwanese ($15,092) for P2P operators convicted of violating the Copyright Law. They must also cease operating within a month.

"This is a great news for the music industry in Taiwan," IFPI Taiwan secretary-general Robin Lee tells Billboard.

IFPI Taiwan had sued Kuro and Ezpeer, the country's two biggest P2P services for copyright infringement in 2002. The two services had each been charging users $99 Taiwanese ($2.99) per month to swap unlimited numbers of music files on the platform without, according to IFPI, the permission of copyright holders. At their peak, the two services claimed a total of some 800,000 subscribers.

Kuro was found guilty of copyright infringement by the Taipei District Court in September 2005 and subsequently paid IFPI members a total of $9.1 million (U.S.) in settlement. Its P2P platform ceased operating in September 2006. However, the Shilin District Court found Ezpeer not guilty of infringing copyright in July 2005. In June 2006, the company relaunched as a legal digital music service named Ezpeer+ after striking content deals with local labels.

"If the amendments had been law back then [in 2002], we wouldn't have had to spend four years battling with the two P2P operators," Lee says. "It's better late than never."

Lee says there are currently no major illegal P2P services operating in Taiwan, although some users still download music via overseas-based file-sharing services, Lee says. The newly amended Copyright Law applies only to Taiwan-registered businesses.

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