E-commerce trade is booming in Southeast Asia as the pandemic has accelerated online shopping. Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD have invested in the region’s platforms and there are many strong and well financed local operators (like Tokopedia and Shopee).
Meanwhile counterfeit goods continue to plague platforms, and each country has its own patchwork of different rules. Different ministries may be responsible in different countries with different regulatory approaches are taken. There is no consistency. IP owners are increasingly frustrated that they have to invest in different and complicated takedown systems management for each country in Southeast Asia.
The typical ISP historic pattern is playing out. Initially platforms were responsible in creating building takedown systems then the boom began and platforms proliferated and regulations started to catch up. However e-commerce sales have moved on and new methods are emerging (liveselling, influencer sales, WhatsApp groups etc.). IP owners now expect large platforms to do more to proactively monitor and manage illegal content on their platforms. Technology solutions have not materialized, and platforms are using the age-old ignorance of content argument. So once again, the regulations are behind the curve.
A new approach is now being tried. In several countries, MOUs have been initiated by Intellectual Property Offices and other bodies. The British government is supporting some, the Philippines IPOPHIL is soon to sign one with IP owners and platforms, and Thailand’s DIP signed one with IP owner representatives on 11th January. A socially distanced signing ceremony was performed. These MoUs work in different ways in different places. Some oblige platforms to be more proactive and others give the IP office Enforcement departments powers to step in to online enforcement.
MOUs may fix some short term problems and they can be faster than new regulations, but they do not cover every eventuality and new trends are not caught. Countries may need to execute multiple MOUs every year or two to keep up. Some countries are still at a basic level, for example Indonesia, has only a basic takedown system. At present ASEAN’s IP strategy does not cover e-commerce IP enforcement. IP owners are increasingly demanding a consistent regional approach, to reduce the cost and complexity of 10 countries running different systems.