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The Chinese Government's Fight Against Piracy

Piracy on audio-visual product is a die-hard problem challenging the whole world today, particularly the developing countries. In China, the battle between legitimate and pirated products has never ceased since the 1980s when the country’s audio-visual product embarked on rapid development. From the first special campaign in 1989 to the present year, large amounts of manpower, material and capital have been invested in various campaigns against the pirating, illegal trafficking and circulation of audio-visual products.

Since 1996, combat against audio-visual piracy has become a pronounced priority for the Chinese government in the administration of cultural markets. Early that year, the Ministry of Culture enforced an initiative to ban all the nation’s laser disc projection venues, which were found to be great buyers of pirated products. Over 5000 venues were closed within 3 months, and the number of video halls was also reduced.

In May 1996, the Ministry of Culture organized the first national meeting on the administration of China’s audio-visual products market. In the following June, a yearlong intensified action was launched to rectify China’s audio-visual products market. The State Council administrative department issued a special statute entitled Circular for Earnest Efforts in the Rectification of Audio-visual Products Market. The Circular called upon all levels of the people’s government and related departments under the State Council to redouble their efforts in the rectification of the audio-visual market, to address both market development and administration, and to honor their commitments to the nation and the people. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture also set up a special taskforce to fulfill its leadership responsibility in this campaign. During the whole action, the Ministry has issued altogether 14 regulatory documents; and the minister and vice ministers of culture and chief officers of different departments personally made 14 inspection tours to 34 cities in 27 provinces and municipalities. In the outcome, piracy of audio-visual products was effectively checked, as over 10 million items of illegal audio-visual products were confiscated, above 4000 illegal businesses banned, more than 8000 unlicensed businesses sealed up, 20 plus distribution centers of illegal products closed down; 6 illegal disc companies exposed and punished, and over 800 violators of law captured.

The intensified action from 1996 to 1997 is a clear testimony to the Chinese government’s principled stand, firm confidence and tough measures in fighting piracy and safeguarding intellectual property rights. The action levied a powerful blow on the law offenders, and marked a notable victory on the overall anti-piracy agenda. The year 1996 and 1997 thus became a period when China’s legitimate audio-visual business rose to a new height of development.

In the subsequent years, new achievements were scored in cracking down illegal disc production lines. Up to date, 137 lines for illegal disc production (most of which imported from European and American countries) were uncovered, bringing heavy loss to the lawbreakers. From 1997 on, the wily criminals shifted their strategies into trafficking illegal products made in overseas production bases. In accordance, the China Customs has arranged for several consistent years special campaigns against the trafficking of pirated discs. On the night of October 1st, 1999 for instance, the Gongbei Customs of Shenzhen captured on a sea boat 452, 000 items of pirated discs of over 410 categories, which became one of the largest disc-trafficking cases ever detected by the customs.

Again from June to July in 1998, the cultural authorities of the Chinese government carried out another round of intensified actions of market inspection and law enforcement, in which more than 14 million items of illegal audio-visual products were confiscated.

Aiming at the enhancement of public awareness against piracy, the Ministry of Culture decided in 1999 to launch publicity campaigns every year to spread information on intellectual property rights and related legislation to the whole society. In June 1999, an “Anti-piracy Week” was initiated with the theme of “Piracy Selling Breaks Law; Piracy Buying Brings Harm”. Up to 2002, similar publicity activities on the legislation of audio-visual market have been held for four years running.

In 1999, large swarms of pirated VCD series were found on the Chinese markets. These series, large in quantity and each consisting ten to hundreds in categories and bearing its own brand, showed signs of careful planning and systematic management in their production, processing, packaging and distribution. Noting such evidence of serious collective crimes, the Ministry of Culture issued an urgent circular on Oct. 9, 1999, kicking off another special campaign against pirated series simultaneously around the country.

On February and April respectively, the Ministry of Culture publicized several directories of illegal products, focusing on illegal audio-visual series and illegal products copying fast-selling Chinese films and TV plays. On Dec. 2, 2001, following the instruction of the Ministry, over 200 cities around the country destroyed in public 18,290,000 items of illegal audio-visual products, making the total number of destroyed illegal products of the year 90,050,000.

Audio-visual products distribution centers formed on the bases of booth renting had long been hard-boiled shelters of illegal objects, greatly disrupting the market. Since 1999, the Ministry of Culture made a decisive move to close all such centers across the country within three years. Till Dec. 25th, 2001, 277 distribution centers of audio-visual products around the nation were closed down (among which 216 were shut in 2001 alone); over 8600 business dealers were suspended of license, shut from business or moved to other venues. The closing of such places proved to be a very significant measure taken by the Ministry, for it has substantially damaged the major circulation network for illegal audio-visual products around the country.

In order to keep the momentum of high pressure upon audio-visual piracy and illegal trafficking, the Ministry of Culture organized a special campaign again in 2002. This time over 199,000 people were engaged in the law enforcement and inspection process, covering 117,000 dealers of audio-visual products. A total of 10,607 unlicensed businesses were cancelled, and 3550 business licenses suspended; altogether 10,713 cases settled with administrative means, and 252 cases transferred to public security and judicial departments. This year, the number of confiscated illegal audio-visual products around the nation has reached 43,447,000.

Today, the Chinese public is increasingly aware of the importance of intellectual property rights protection. Efforts in this regard are heightened and the country’s audio-visual products market is improving positively: First, legitimate audio-visual products now enjoy steady increase in circulation. Take Guangdong Audio-Visual Mall (a national-level wholesale market) for instance, in 2000 the circulation volume was 607 million RMB, 35% higher than in 1999; in 2001 it was 880 million, 45% higher than 2000; and from January to June this year it was 810 million, 142% higher than the same period last year. Second, the force balance in the market shows favorable changes for the law abiders. Legitimate publishers are growing stronger in market control and economic power, and their role as market pillars is gradually established. Third, infrastructure construction of audio-visual markets is making headway. The nation now has about 3000 chain stores and large audio-visual super-markets (each above 500 sq. m. in floor space). These stores and markets, along with audio-visual sections in major bookstores, department stores, post offices and so on, are becoming key channels for the circulation of audio-visual products in the Chinese market.

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