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Economic Yin & Yang
by Valerie Sartor
2008-02-03 09:35:12
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In August 2007 Chinese news reported that the Beijing Chidong Culture and Media Company began a lawsuit against a Japanese TV station. Apparently SKYperfecTV on Channel 785 broadcast their Japanese production of the Chinese TV series Ku Cai Hua without getting any authorization or giving any payment. In fact, Japanese TV stations are currently alleged to have broadcast up to 500 unauthorized (and unpaid for) Chinese TV series, totaling approximately 9,000 episodes. Understandably some very irate Chinese feel certain that the Japanese are liable for copyright infringement, at the price of 10 to fifteen million Japanese yen per episode.

It made me think about my old friend Gary Kott, an author who made his fortune writing the Bill Cosby Show. He’d told me years ago that if China outsourced all the US jobs: automobiles, clothing, steel, food and agriculture, the United States would always be able to make a good living by exporting entertainment. “The US has the best movies and shows on the planet,” he bragged. “We out-entertain everybody; the whole world will willingly pay to watch our stuff. And they do.”

“Well,” I reported back to him after settling in China, “Everybody pays but the Chinese. You can buy a pirated version of any best selling movie or book that was made into a movie virtually a week after it comes out, for peanuts. The Chinese do not respect copyright laws; they claim it is the will of the masses to skip payments and provide affordable goods for their poor.”

China isn’t poor anymore. The country has magnificently morphed into a production giant faster and better than any other country in the world. But now the red giant is feeling the same aches and pains other developed countries felt as China blithely swiped patents, copyrights and ideas that the rest of the world was obliged to pay millions to develop and beaucoup bucks to install or view.

The Chinese government doesn’t seriously police intellectual property rights. Officials have, in effect, created a vast global subsidy (just as the Chinese banks subsidize national industries) available to every Chinese citizen. For entertainment and work purposes billions of dollars of counterfeit computer programs, CDs, and DVDs are very cheaply mass-produced nationwide. The government’s defense in regard to computer programs, such as the prestigious Adobe Suite (25RMB; I paid 299USD for only non-pirated Photoshop), states that because the average Chinese can’t afford the program, Adobe hasn’t literally lost money at all.

This mentality is colonial. But have the western nations, once the great colonial powers of the world, acted any differently? British, Dutch and French armies voyaged deep into the heart of Africa, excavating the most valuable assets: diamonds, hardwoods, even humanity, and in doing so, undermined the Africans’ abilities to defend themselves or counterattack. The Spanish and the English acted similarly in North America and South America, even decimating the indigenous populations. Pointing fingers at China for a lack of ethics, immoral business practices and just downright foul play has no real moral value coming from countries that have done the same or worse in their own business histories.

While western nations shout and point fingers, they are also investing billions of dollars, allowing special economic concessions, along with subsidized technology training programs. By betting on China as the next world’s manufacturing marketplace, western nations are practically giving away expertise, infrastructure, machines and technology. Everyone wants a piece of the China action. Because they cannot force China to behave they’re willing to treat her as a coy mistress, bestowing favors in hopes of larger rewards.

China’s star continues to rise. She has entered the world’s largest markets, merged with multinationals and created her own brands; I’m sure China will set new technology standards. Obviously the country has created alluring entertainment standards, or the Japanese would not have stolen those TV shows. China, as the victim of humiliating colonization attempts from various western powers, like a violated woman, feels no remorse at all by pilfering property from the world.

But the country has reached a higher level of prosperity, a standard where her own goods are seen fit to be pilfered. Can China, the audacious, defensive giant, really starting shouting: “thief” at anyone else?

David Baker said; “I think we always move from imitation to assimilation to innovation, but I can't name you 20 people outside those we've already recognized who ever got to point three: innovation.” As China rises to become the brightest economic star will she repeat the mistakes of the west? Or will she design the very best technologies, the highest quality manufactured goods, the most alluring entertainment: head for excellence rather than fret over petty nations feeding off her success. But take heed: without innovation the colonial cycle invariably repeats. The entire world will suffer.

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