0

Piracy in China

BEIJING: China now appears to be the country with the most notorious reputation for corporate piracy. Indeed, if multinationals and developed countries had an “Interpol” to track down and arrest countries charged with being havens for business piracy, China would likely top the “Most Wanted” list because of its lack of protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). Sadly, much of the case against China is true; no one here should ignore this, or pretend the facts are otherwise.

Is this reputation for piracy somehow an intrinsic business “characteristic of the Chinese” or of “Asians” as a whole as some allege? Maybe, maybe not. Taiwanese and Koreans were the culprits in the 1960s, and 1970s. Today, Thai businesses are accused of piracy as often as Chinese companies. But intellectual/corporate piracy is not confined to Asia. Israel was once nicknamed a “one-disc-country” – a reference to the idea that a single software CD-Rom would be bought and then illicitly copied throughout the country.

Piracy, however, should not be used to tar an entire country’s economy or business structures as criminal. It should, instead, be regarded as a problem found almost universally in countries undergoing the earliest stages of development. A fully functioning legal system and – perhaps more importantly – the mentality associated with the rule of law are often absent, or primitive, in most developing countries. Signing IPR conventions, and incorporating them into domestic law, means little or nothing when a country’s law enforcement is weak. Moreover, law enforcement and legal sanctions don’t mean much if people do not own property themselves, that would be at risk through fines or other sanctions.

No surprise, then, that a backward, developing country in the early stages of “catching up” through learning from the developed world, sees copying the intellectual advances of others as something like a human right. This may explain why the issues of intellectual property rights are, for most developing countries, usually treated as an “international matter,” not a problem for domestic politics. Given this situation, is it actually realistic to expect politicians and government officials to work hard to protect foreigners’ rights in face of the needs of their fellow citizens? The answer is an emphatic NO.