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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

April 12, 2007

Written by C.N.

Movie Piracy in China

Modern China is known for many things, but not all of them are flattering to the Chinese. One such point of notoriety is the near-universal supply of pirated American movies that are available throughout China. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to address the problem, the U.S. has now decided to file suit against China at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Will it work? As reports, the Chinese don’t think so:

China is always claiming it is going to crack down on the country’s rampant intellectual property abuse. In fact, the government declared this past March 15 anti-piracy day, and there are still big billboards downtown urging everyone to fight against IPR theft. . . . “Many countries are facing the same challenges in their anti-piracy campaigns,” said Chen Zhaokuan, deputy director of China’s Copyright Society. “For China, we are a latecomer in this area, and it’s natural that the sense of copyright protection among the Chinese people is not that strong.” . . .

When it comes to computer software, pharmaceuticals and a handful of other areas, Chen is right. The Chinese actually have made some progress on IP protection over the years. But for the film and music business, the claim that there has been progress is simply a joke. Ask Zhou, or any of the other street vendors in Shanghai, Beijing or anywhere else in China.

“Competition has never been tougher,” Li Haihua told me as he did a brisk business selling brand new American-made films for five RMB apiece (the equivalent of about 60 cents) on Huaihai Street in central Shanghai, not five minutes from one of the big anti piracy billboards. He cast his eyes up and down the street. “There are more [sellers] than ever before, and the price has come down. It used to be you could sell a new DVD for eight RMB. Not anymore. There’s too much competition.”

His message doesn’t bode well for any kind of crackdown. There is more supply [and] prices have fallen sharply because of that. If the government had made any progress drying up the supply of counterfeit movies and music, prices would have gone up, not down.

Is piracy just the cost of doing business with China? Is it inevitable that China will always have a piracy problem? Looking at the extent and pure pervasiveness of the problem, it’s tempting to say yes. But if I recall, the same issue existed in Japan for a long time as well, before Japanese society and its economy matured enough so that piracy was no longer necessary. Could the same process happen again in China?

Before I can say yes to that question, let us remember that China has about ten times the population that Japan has and that China’s economy is developing in an era of much more fierce global economic competition. So what’s the verdict?

The piracy problem may become somewhat alleviated, but my guess is that until the standard of living inside China increases significantly, piracy will continue to exist. However, having said that, American companies will complain but in the end, will temper their anger because ultimately, they want a part of the action — China’s 1.3 billion consumer market.

To paraphrase the old adage, capitalism might take one step backward, but somehow, will always end up being two steps ahead.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Movie Piracy in China" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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