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America names its top copyright offenders

China, Russia and Canada were among 12 countries targeted by the Obama administration for failing to sufficiently protect American producers of music, movies and other copyrighted material from widespread piracy.

The US placed the 12 nations on a "priority watch list" that will subject them to extra scrutiny and could eventually lead to economic sanctions if the administration decides to bring trade cases before the World Trade Organisation.

It marked the first time that Canada has been placed on the list. Also added to the priority list this year were Algeria and Indonesia.

The administration said Canada was elevated to the priority list because of increasing concerns about the need for it to implement copyright reforms and better police its borders to seize pirated goods.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the findings in the report, which has been done annually for 20 years, would guide the administration's efforts to protect American producers of copyrighted products.

"Our creative and innovative products can hit the global marketplace sometimes with just a keystroke," Kirk said in a statement. "If we and our trading partners are not vigilant in protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights, they can vanish just as quickly."

China and Russia have been on the priority watch list for a number of years because of ongoing concerns about what the US sees as rampant piracy of movies, music, computer programs and other copyrighted material.

Kirk said he was "particularly troubled" by reports that Chinese officials are urging more lenient enforcement of intellectual property rights laws because of the financial crisis and the need to protect jobs.

"China needs to strengthen its approach to IPR protection and enforcement, not weaken it," Kirk said.

The other nations placed on the priority watch list in this year's report were: Argentina, Chile, India, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand and Venezuela.

Another 33 trading partners were placed on a lower level watch list, indicating the administration is concerned about various copyright issues in those nations but does not view them as the largest threats to US businesses.

The 33 trading partners placed on this year's watch list were: Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

In addition, the administration said Paraguay would continue to be monitored under a special procedure covered by a bilateral agreement with that country.

Industry groups praised the new administration's efforts to crack down on copyright piracy.

"The entire music community continues to face a serious and significant challenge from both online theft and traditional piracy," said Neil Turkewitz, executive vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Turkewitz said in Canada, that country's laws remain "seriously outmoded and it has fallen far behind the rest of the developed world in providing a modern framework for effective protection."

Eric H Smith of the International Intellectual Property Alliance said his group was pleased that Kirk has pledged to use all the tools available to pursue copyright violations.