The problem of piracy

Differences between English and Chinese definitions for copyright.

English

Copyright: (n)  The exclusive right to make and dispose of copies of a literary, musical, or artistic work.

Chinese

Copyright: (v)  I have something that’s not mine. I can copy, right?

Intellectual property rights are a double-edged sword in China and an issue of which I have mixed feelings. I am, in the eyes of many of my friends, a sucker.

I’m the guy who pays $1.69 at the iTunes store to download the song he likes. I’m the guy who pays legitimately for every app on his iPad, even though the device is jailbroken and could be downloaded or free.

But I’m also the guy who wears the fake Nike runners with the rock hard artificial “air bubble” in the sole like its real cousin. I’m also the guy who was sweating at Sydney International Airport three weeks ago wondering if that sniffer dog could smell the 150 pirate DVDs in the backpack.

I’m all for artistic types from George Gershwin to Lady Gaga getting their dues for their work. But when retailers ask $US30 for a movie or album, forget about it.

Pirate DVDs and online file-sharing programs have brought the wonder of Hollywood (plus, at times, hilarious subtitle translations) to flickering TV sets in dank migrant worker dorms and university students’ worn-laptops across China. These movies are, beyond entertainment, are great way to learn English. They provide insight into Western culture for people who have neither the means nor luxury to travel abroad. Furthermore, foreign films must compete to be included among the Chinese government’s permitted annual quota of 20 as enforced since 2002.

Chinese audiences will pay for entertainment when its warranted. There’s no better evidence of this than when Avatar hit screens in 2009. People paid 150RMB (US$22.50) for the privilege of a 3D screening. When cinemas were still inundated, they put the price up to 200RMB (US$30). Still, they kept coming.

The answer lies in getting the balance right. If China was fair dinkum about eradicating piracy and protecting IPR, it would do more than just air the obligatory news story every six months about some shipment of illegal materials getting busted (cue: footage of DVDs being shredded by the hundreds, clothes vendors being shut down). Likewise, I’m sure Hollywood stars could keep living in their Beverley Hills mansions as they drop off their adopted third-world orphans to school on the way to Pilates class if a new DVD cost $5 or $10 instead of $30. Shoppers would have a better conscious, too.

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