US reads riot act on Chinese piracy

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The Independent Online
The US arts industry went on the offensive over Chinese piracy yesterday.

Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, went straight to the point: "What we are talking about is thievery, short and simple. The theft of property that belongs to someone else, and that is sold at a profit by the thieves. Copyright abuse in China is one of the cosmic issues facing us around the world."

Next to him, Jay Berman, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, brandished more than a dozen pirated CDs bought from hawkers on nearby street corners. "It's not a complicated issue. It's a very simple issue. These plant are reproducing, without licence, illegally, US-owned recordings. It takes political will, nothing more, nothing less, on the part of the Chinese government to stop it," he said.

The US had offered the Chinese aerial photographs of the pirating plants, 29 of which had been precisely identified.

With the clock ticking towards a massive US-Sino trade war over copyright abuse, US industry moguls yesterday presented the case for the prosecution. Across town, the US government negotiating team, led by Lee Sands, trade representative, was trying to extract a cast-iron commitment from his Chinese counterparts over enforcement of copyright legislation. The US has set a deadline of 4 February for China to take effective action or face punitive sanctions on up to $2.8bn of Chinese exports to the US. China has detailed equally fierce retaliatory measures.

Last night it was announced that this round of talks would continue for an extra day, which analysts said was a positive sign. Discussions are due to end this evening, leaving just two weeks to avoid a trade war. The US has said it wants to see strong measures, including plant closures.

The American industry chiefs argue that, so far, China has lacked the "political will" to enforce its new intellectual property legislation.

Mr Valenti told the story of how a representative of his association visited the Shenfei factory, in southern China. "One of the [Chinese] clerks thought he was a buyer, and promptly took him into the showroom where he proudly displayed and brandished dozens and dozens of laser discs, the vast majority of which were American movie titles. All stolen, all illegal."

Precise details of the factory were passed to the local Chinese authorities, but no action was taken, he added.

Ken Wasch, head of the Software Publishers Association, which represents 1,100 software companies in the US and Europe, said: "The Chinese are already using millions of dollars of US software. Yet total sales of application software last year were less than $1m. The Chinese bought a million personal computers last year, which means an average of just $1 was spent on software per PC compared with $30 in developing countries like India."

He also pointed the finger at Chinese government ministries that "purchase virtually no software. To that extent they are being run on pirated software."

Robert Holleyman, president of Business Software Alliance, showed an advertisement for a CD-Rom containing 70 of the world's best software programmes for less than $100. To buy those legitimately would cost at least $6,000.

And the company selling the disc? "Subsidy CD".