Intellectual Property Rights are a constant issue in China, and you know it is bad when People’s Daily devotes a special button on the front page to help you find the official information (Tibet gets a special button too). ChinaLawBlog.com says that IPR is one of the top 4 concerns companies should investigate before coming here. It’s no secret why, Chinese companies are infamous for stealing plans, duplicating the product and then undercutting the people who they agreed to do business with in the first place.
The official story is that the government is “unswervingly implementing” policies to protect IPR. They like to talk about how they have cracked down on 30,000 copyright infringement cases, and are insulted when the US lists Chinese websites as markets for pirated goods. For us living in China though, we know all of the talk is really just talk.
Baidu, China’s largest search engine, has a link on it’s home page that helps you download MP3’s for free. Youku and Tudou are China’s streaming video sites, and they serve up piles of copied TV shows and videos. Even if those sites were shut down there are whole floors of malls dedicated to selling pirated DVDs and CDs, not to mention whole markets that sell knock off designer bags and glasses, and I have yet to use a Chinese computer with a real version of Windows, and I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
My wife and I have benefited greatly from China’s relaxed attitude towards copyrights (We realize they are important, but we like movies more). When we move to a new city, one of our top priorities is finding a new DVD shop.
In Chengdu we found one tucked in a small apartment behind the computer mall. The shop had a large bedroom that had been converted into one of the finest collections of pirated movies I have ever had the joy of browsing. Everything was available, classic Audrey Hepburn films, Tiger Woods golfing tips, collections of every Disney movie ever, and new films just days after their US debut.
It’s hard to resist buying a stack of DVDs when they cost just under $.75 compared to the $15-20 back home. Almost every foreigner we know ends up with a binder or two full of movies they have acquired here.
In Nanjing we live near five DVD shops that each contain close to 1,000 pirated films, TV shows, or computer games, and these are just the physical goods, imagine how much is being downloaded directly (our Chinese friends laugh at us for paying the $.75 and not downloading them).
The problem here is similar to so many of the other issues that China has difficulty in tackling. The fear from the gov’t is that if they actually enforced these IPR claims, it would put “luxury” brands and entertainment out of reach for the common people. If you see that the Chinese elite have a purse that costs more than you make in a decade, you are going to start asking questions, unless you can buy one that looks just like it.
150 years ago Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses”, I wonder what he would have to say about China’s unlimited access to blockbuster movies?
Tomorrow we will be looking at a few more examples of ripping off foreign IPR from China’s tech and automotive sector.