Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is Shanghai's battle against counterfeit DVDs merely serving Hollywood, or harming it?

The advent of the digital era in the last decade was bound to be accompanied by some disadvantages. Whilst the unlimited possibilities of the Internet seem to benefit virtually the whole scope, there are some people and business branches who consider themselves victims of the digital hegemony. They all suffer from a common disease that is rapidly spreading.

Its name: Internet piracy. Its treatment: yet unknown.

It needs no further elaboration what damage Internet piracy causes to the music, movie and software industry. Whereas consumers of illegal copies might think they are doing a good turn for themselves, in the long run they are merely destroying their own beloved hobbies. The more people consume illegal CDs and DVDs, the less profit remains for producers to actually be able to continue manufacturing in these areas.

The world is very aware of the need to fight illegal Internet piracy and to bring the pirates' journey to a definite end. Hence, the world faces a very big challenge. The Internet's endless possibilities, in a sense their best friends, are in this regard their worst enemies.

China is the world's second-largest Internet market, with roughly 111 million users at the end of last year. Unfortunately, this great market also contains an accompanying amount of unlawful users and exploiters of the medium. China is committed to destroying this illicit market of Internet piracy.

Three weeks ago, the Chinese Government started a three-month campaign to crack down on Internet piracy, so as to purify the online atmosphere of copyright protection, as officials stated. China had already completed a 100-day anti-piracy campaign earlier this year in July. The government pledged to take a hard line against Internet piracy and intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement, successfully crushing 13 million pirated discs so far this year.

Shanghai, amongst several other Chinese cities, has been urged strongly by the Chinese administration to put forth a greater effort to destroy illegal piracy. Over the last few months, it has definitely put in the effort to fight the battle.

The local Xiangyang market has always been considered the core gathering of Shanghai's Internet pirates. The market was known for its widespread sale of fake fashion and illegal CDs, DVDs and software products. The market was closed by the Shanghai Municipal Government at the end of June on these grounds.

Hu Yanzhao, vice mayor of Shanghai, said the authorities have realized the importance of protecting intellectual property and the central government is legislating to create a better market environment. The municipal government would set up a hotline for the Shanghai public to report cases of IPR infringements and launch a crackdown on illegal audio and video products, he said.

Although the Xiangyang market was formally closed, it reappeared only shortly afterwards - this time in different locations in the city, one in Puxi and one in Pudong. The problem was thus in reality not solved but just relocated.

Even if the famous market would eventually shut its doors for good, Shanghai still needs to deal with the many vendors of illegal DVDs and CDs on the streets. It is strikingly simple to acquire the latest Hollywood motion picture or the newest Robbie Williams CD at every subway station or on the main roads of the city.

Vendors of illegal DVDs seem to be the film business' main source of frustration. At least, that is what Hollywood likes us to believe.

But are those vendors really the ones keeping Orlando Bloom and Julia Roberts awake at night? One might plead that it is just the other way around: it is those vendors who make sure Bloom and Roberts actually get their good nights' sleep in their giant four-posters.

China has a policy in which only a limited number of foreign movies may be screened in Chinese cinemas per year. Therefore, if it wasn't for the pirates and vendors on the street, hundreds of foreign - mainly Hollywood - movies would never ever reach the greater Chinese audience. And we all know how enormous this Chinese audience is.

Therefore, the pirates are not only meeting a demand that cannot be met within the legal Chinese market, but moreover they are doing the greatest marketing job Hollywood could ask for. If it wasn't for the guy in the South Huangpi Road subway station, people would not have a clue if you asked them who Kirsten Dunst is. Now they know all about her even in Yunnan and Golmud.

The battle against illicit DVDs is therefore ambiguous. Although the big guys in Hollywood strongly pressure the Chinese Government to enhance measures against piracy, they might just be killing their own resources, which at times seem so fruitful for them.

Tags: internet, piracy, DVDs, movies, shanghai, china, government,

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