Photographer:Fotograaf: Stock Xchange
PhD research into Chinese media piracy
Approximately 80 per cent of all software in China is illegal; lots of money can be made selling copied DVDs and CDs. The Chinese government is simply not able to act against it, says Rogier Creemers, who obtained his doctorate at Maastricht University last week. “It is a result of their own censorship.”
Why does the market of fake products flourish in China? This was a question that the Belgian Rogier Creemers asked himself at the very beginning of his research at the Maastricht law faculty. He studied Sinology in Leuven and also got a degree in international relations.
“Go to China and you are bombarded with Pama or Adibos shoes, fake versions of Puma and Adidas products." The same goes for fake bags, audiovisual media, software, yes even for medicine and aircraft components. The public service is to blame, says Creemers. "The government claims to be running the country, but in actual fact cannot manage to do so. One of the problems is the enormous size of the country and the fact that the central authorities cannot possibly check everything and everyone. There are numerous regions and cities with local party branches, which may be subject to the single Communist Party, but whose officials do as they please. There is little evidence of a professional civil service, so there is a perfect breeding ground for corruption. In some parts of the country, the government feigns ignorance to the growing and flourishing trade of copied DVDs. Local protectionism. Certain regions, such as the central eastern Yiwu, run entirely on the imitation industry; shops, hotels, and restaurants. Dealers get token fines every now and again, but these are usually not high enough to make them stop.”
Still, the government is not always slack. When it comes to safety, they try to get to grips with it, but the result is that other matters get dropped. Creemers: “I can imagine that the government would prefer to tackle the trade of fake pills with no active ingredients or unsafe imitation aircraft components, rather than Adibos shoes or fake Prada bags. Nobody complains about the latter. People cannot pay for real Pradas or simply cannot be bothered to pay so much money. The same goes for audiovisual media. Why pay when you can get it cheaper or even for free.”
In his research Creemers focused on the relation between audiovisual media piracy in China, intellectual property law and media regulation. Looking at China’s attitude towards foreign media, he concludes that it is actually their censorship that lies at the basis of this flourishing trade of illegally copied DVDs. “China imports few foreign films. The propaganda department selects what is shown in the cinemas. Above all films must emphasise the glory of China and the Communist Party. What is available legally, is limited and boring and if you want to watch an interesting, exciting film, you have to turn to the illegal market.” Creemers remembers an incident with the film Avatar. The regular version of the film was no longer allowed to be shown. On the one hand, the plot could inspire the Chinese population to resist and on the other hand, they did not want another film – a biopic of the philosopher Confucius from ancient China – which had its premiere around the same time, to flop. “Of course nobody went to see Confucius anyway… schools and even the women’s union were compelled to go to the film, subsidised, naturally.”
Creemers himself has experienced the fact that China does not only ban foreign films, but also newspapers and Internet sites. "While the newspaper kiosks in Hong Kong (which has been a special administrative region in China since 1997 after having been a British colony) still sell twenty to thirty foreign newspapers, Chinese kiosks only have the China Daily, the party newspaper. It feels like living in a bell jar, unplugged from the world. When I went there as a researcher, I at least had access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube via VPN (Virtual Private Network, ed.). Unlike the Chinese themselves. The Communist Party determines what can be found on Internet.”
His conclusion: media piracy will not disappear by itself. If it is the only way to come by information then people will use it. "Besides, the Chinese government turns a blind eye to many things; they do not want to antagonise the population. They already have a lot of trouble with dissidents and riots – they refer to them as mass incidents – so they do not intervene too much on the illegal market.” Foreign countries do not take much action either. “Who can beat China anyway? They make a lot of things very cheaply, we happily import them. Considering our consumerism, this will not decrease. Foreign parties do take some action, in particular the World Trade Organization, but they are fighting a losing battle.”
While the illegal market flourishes in China, there is a lot of debate in Europe and the United States about Internet freedom. Recently a Dutch Court ordered two Internet providers to block The Pirate Bay (a Swedish website that makes it easy to download films). The American FBI tackled the download site MegaUpload at the end of January.
Researcher Rogier Creemers saw a photo on Facebook of the German Kim Schmitz, founder of MegaUpload, who risks a jail sentence of 50 years “for helping share digital archives”, and beside him a photo of Miguel Carano, a rapist and murderer who will be jailed for 20. “The debate has been completely skewed,” feels Creemers. “We are now talking about locking people up almost for life for sharing files. The punishment is totally out of proportion to the act. Apparently, the media lobby desperately wants to return to a world that existed before the Internet, but that seems impossible without draconic measures. I would like to argue for new, creative solutions that would make access to information cheaper and broader, while allowing artists and creative powers to keep making wonderful products.”