As China chose its new leaders, the country again demanded the world's attention. Even Amazon is reportedly preparing to finally launch Kindle in the Middle Kingdom. Understandably, among those rushing to grab a share of the Chinese market are established and self-proclaimed representatives of the world's publishing and writing industries. Yet there is no doubt that everyone has the same question in their minds: Is the problem of piracy really as bad in China as it is rumored in the West? What should I do if my work is pirated? Just blame it on bad luck?
The American way to solve this problem is to launch a series of trade sanctions against China. The message is clear: Unless the Chinese Government can stop its people from conducting the criminal act of copyright violation, the whole country will be deemed a pirate by the international society. However, in recent days there has been one Chinese official who dared to stand up against this "bullying". Tian Lipu, head of China's State Intellectual Property Office, claimed that it is unfair and immoral for Western nations such as the United States to attempt restricting China's commercial development by political means.
According to Tian, Western media have long been deliberately smearing China's global image. "China's image overseas is very poor. As soon as people hear China, they think of piracy and counterfeiting," he said. "We don't deny [this problem], and we are continuing to battle against it."
However, Tian insisted that other facts about China's achievements in this regard have been ignored by the West. "For example, China is the world's largest payer for patent rights, for trademark rights, for royalties, and one of the largest for buying real software. We pay the most. People rarely talk about this, but it really is a fact. Our government offices, our banks, our insurance companies, our firms... the software is all real," he announced.
More importantly, if Western companies were so worried about piracy in China, they would never choose to set up operational bases in that country. "Of the goods made for Apple Inc., most are made in China. Once Apple's brand is added to it and it is exported to the United States, its value doubles," he said. "This could only happen because China's intellectual property rights environment sets foreign investors at ease, allowing them to come to China to manufacture."
Tian's argument is certainly valid, and no one should deny China's efforts in combating piracy and protecting intellectual property rights of both domestic and foreign citizens. However, Tian may have neglected an important fact himself -- paying for the aforementioned rights, royalties and proper software is a basic obligation, something that is so fundamental that it puts China on the starting point of this global race to tackle and eliminate piracy. Now China needs to catch up.
China has already established a series of well-designed laws and regulations to protect intellectual property rights. Now it needs to catch up to the international society in enforcing them -- to participate in global legal networks and track down those criminals hiding across political and geographical borders, to promote and enforce within China the concept of respecting other people's intellectual property rights, and to severely punish all those pirates and destroy their counterfeit goods.
Tian knows where the counterfeit markets are in China and admitted openly that local people use and buy pirated goods. Now, as that country's top official in charge of fighting copyright piracy, all he needs to do is to show some concrete results in cracking down these markets. Particularly in relation to China's (digital) publishing industry, the Chinese Government's resolve and show of force in combating piracy will considerably benefit all the legitimate publishers, authors and readers. It will no doubt comfort those international publishers and authors who truly want to share their literary achievements with their Chinese counterparts.
Instead of embracing a culture of "cheap copying", or Shanzhai, or considering "Shanzhaiism" as a form of domestic entrepreneurship, China needs to find its own original way. Such originality is not and will never be cheap, and its people need to be encouraged -- and even forced -- to adopt the attitude of paying for quality. Look at it this way -- to respect other people's intellectual property rights is to confirm that we have our own values. We know who we are, and that is why we can draw the line between what belongs to us and what belongs to the others. If China continues to allow its people to pirate other people's goods, then to some degree it is denying the values of its people as individuals. In the same way that a pirated book should be trashed, a country without originality can never stand up on its own.