Is the sale and manufacture of “Ubox clean version” which doesn’t contain any infringing apps, against the law? (Taiwan)

Jane Tsai and Weke Chen

In August this year, the Olympic craze swept across Taiwan. While celebrities began posting on social media photos of them supporting their favorite athletes, some eagle-eyed netizens found in those photos their use of Ubox, a set-top box (STB). As a result, the issue on the use of STBs to access illegal audiovisual content surfaced once again. This topic was addressed by the amendment of Taiwan’s Copyright Act in 2019, which defined the manufacture, import, or sale of technological non-neutral STBs as infringing acts.

1. Copyright Act before the 2019 amendment

The “Clean” version of an Ubox means that the STB’s operating system is not equipped with safety restrictions. This grants its customers the ability to install specific apps that connect to a server containing cracked signals of domestic and international channels, allowing users to access pirated version of several audiovisual contents. There’s no doubt such apps constitute copyright infringement; however, whether the manufacture or sale of such STBs constitute infringement remains unsettled as they’re not installing these apps for the consumers.

2. Copyright Act before the 2019 amendment

This question was answered after the 2019 Copyright Act amendment, which states, in No.8, Paragraph 1, Article 87, that anyone who has benefitted from supplying the public with access to copyrighted works while with the express knowledge that the public has been using such supply in infringing ways via providing:

(1) computer software that compiles the Internet addresses of copyrighted works;

(2) Guidance, assistance, or a preset path for such software; or

(3) Manufacture, import, or sell any hardware equipped with such software.

The legislative purpose states that although the manufacture and sale of STBs do not equip it with the aforementioned software, they do provide guidance and assistance for the public to install such software. Accordingly, the manufacture and sale of STBs, including those with preset paths to the software, constitute copyright infringement unless it contains no preset address to or guidance for installing such software and is technologically neutral.

Therefore, the manufacturer, importer, or seller of a “clean” version of STB that contains no infringing software applications may still be liable for copyright related civil or criminal responsibilities if they in any way assist or provide guidance for the public with the installment of the aforementioned software and preset path to such software.