NAKHON RATCHASIMA — A local copyright holder of Japanese cartoon character franchise said Tuesday it was not behind an alleged attempt to extort a 15-year-old girl of 50,000 baht for copyright infringement.
T.A.C. Consumer PCL, who holds a copyright for San-X products in Thailand, denies involvement with the sting operation in Korat, in which a man identified himself as a copyright agent and threatened the girl’s family to pay a damage fee of up to 50,000, or face prison terms. The news has sparked widespread anger on social media, where some business owners said they were also victims of a similar scheme.
The girl said the man ordered 136 krathongs, or traditional floats for the upcoming river festival, decorated with cartoon characters from her on Friday. But once the first batch of delivery was made, the customer identified himself as a copyright agent and called the police, according to her father, Thawatchai Polhaeng.
Once she was brought to the police station, Thawatchai said, the self-identified agent demanded a payment of 50,000 baht for copyright infringement or face criminal charges that could land her in jail. He said they eventually settled for a sum of 5,000 baht.
“This isn’t right. Though she might be guilty, but the agent should look at her intentions,” Thawatchai said. “She was just trying to raise some funds for her schooling. The agent should not rip off a kid like this.”
But in a statement today, T.A.C. Consumer PCL said it was not responsible for sending any complaint.
Korat City police chief Col. Kachen Setaputta confirmed police involvement in Friday’s sting operation, but maintained that they were merely following the law.
“The police carried out their duties according to the law. They have to arrest the girl, otherwise they might be guilty of neglecting their duties,” Kachen said.
The girl, who only identified herself to the media as “Orn,” said she intended to sell bread krathongs to help out her family with her tuition fees.
She normally produced flower-patterned krathongs and sold them on Facebook, but the customer who tricked her ordered them to be particularly adorned with copyrighted characters like Angry Birds, Garfield, and Japanese cartoon bear Rilakkuma.
“I didn’t intend to violate copyright law. I was just following the customer’s orders, which I didn’t know was wrong to do,” she said. “They wanted to trick me and extort me for hefty fines. After I went back home, I was crying all night because I never faced any charges like this before.”
But after her plight sparked a fury on social media, several other vendors said they were subject to the same ploy, which experts nicknamed “copyright trolling.”
In the scam, opportunists claiming to represent copyright holders would threaten to bring copyright infringement charges against unsuspecting business owners unless they agree to pay up “settlement fees.”
A popular Facebook page said it has received four accounts of such victims since Orn’s stroke made headlines– all of which occurred in Nakhon Ratchasima. One victim told the page, called Thailand’s Most Wanted, she has to pay 30,000 baht to avoid criminal charges after she made similar krathong with Rilakkuma face.
Legal experts say while these claims would most likely be dismissed by the court – since the complaints were not made by legitimate copyright holders – the vast majority of victims tend to pay up anyway to avoid criminal investigations.