Business

US, China Spar Over Copyright at Conference

Chinese and U.S. representatives exchanged pleasantries and punches at an intellectual property rights (IPR) forum in Beijing Friday, expressing differences of opinion over copyright protection and its enforcement.

"We believe that some key improvements for the effective protection of intellectual property rights in China are still needed. Uneven enforcement of laws continues to undermine the legislative progress being made. Widespread counterfeiting, piracy and other forms of infringement have not been deterred," said Clark T. Randt Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China and founder of the 7th Annual Ambassador's Intellectual Property Rights Roundtable.

Randt, a Bush administration appointee who is likely hosting his final roundtable, gave a hint as to the Obama administration's IPR agenda: "Three days ago, Americans elected a new president. Despite this change, you can be certain that protecting intellectual property rights and the interests of U.S. businesses in China will remain a top priority of the United States government at home and abroad."

Assistant Minister of Commerce Chong Quan, who followed Randt as a keynote speaker, chided Western governments for their criticism of IPR protection in China. While acknowledging that IPR is one of the key issues in the U.S.-China trade relationship, he said "China only took 20 years to develop a high-level IPR infrastructure, where it took hundreds of years in the European Union and the United States." He also repeated a common official Chinese refrain in regard to IPR: "The U.S. side should proceed from China's natural situation" -- meaning that because China is still in many ways a developing country and economy, and therefore the U.S. shouldn't expect immediate or strict enforcement of IPR infringements.

Members of the Business Software Alliance see a lot of opportunities in China, said Jeffrey Hardee, the organization's vice president and regional director for Asia Pacific. China is the world's second-largest PC market, but it is only the ninth-largest software market, he said in an interview on the sidelines of the event.

While software piracy in China dropped 10 percent in the three years from 2003-2006, that rate remained steady in 2007. "We think the government needs to re-double its efforts to bring down the software piracy rate," Hardee said. "The Chinese government certainly understands the importance of the industry. It has very ambitious plans to develop a world-competitive software industry. They aspire to have indigenous innovation here, and they understand the importance of intellectual property protection."

Recent Chinese outrage over the Windows "black screen" -- part of the Windows Genuine Advantage program that informs users their copy of the operating system is not authentic by turning their screen background black -- was the opposite of what the industry and others have sought, Hardee said. "Governments sometimes ask the association, 'Why can't companies use technology to protect their copyrights, to protect their works? Why rely so heavily on the government?' So it's a little bit ironic when a company utilizes its ability to use technological methods that they are so heavily criticized." Media reports of the program locking out users or sending user information to Microsoft were not accurate, he said.

While the delegates discussed the future of IPR in China, movie and music pirates continued to ply their trade just a few hundred meters away. At the entrance to the Wangfujing subway station, underneath one of Beijing's largest malls and off of one of its top shopping streets, recent Chinese films and TV series were on sale, along with some Hollywood blockbusters including "Iron Man." However, the latest James Bond film "Quantum of Solace," due to hit U.S. screens next week was not yet available despite opening in China Wednesday. Early release or day-and-date releases (a release date the same as that in other major markets, such as the U.S.) are seen as combatting piracy by giving consumers the chance to see the film in a cinema before it appears illegally.

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