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Pirate CDs back on Peking streets

Two months after China signed a wide-ranging copyright protection pact with the United States, pirated CDs and CD-roms are again easily available on Peking's street corners. Nervous hawkers have reappeared catering for all tastes with a selection of CD-rom computer software from Voyeur to Desk-top Publisher, as well as a stack of popular music CDs.

The only obvious concession to the crackdown by the authorities supposedly under way is that the discs now come in paper sleeves and transparent envelopes. The plastic containers are too bulky for selling from inside coat pockets.

In the weeks after the intellectual property rights agreement on 26 February, which averted a trade war, pirated discs were harder to find. At the beginning of March the official media reported many raids on retailers and factory closures, and disc salesmen were lying low.

Now the channels of supply are opening again. Microsoft's Encarta '95 multimedia encyclopedia on CD-rom could be picked up easily this week for less than £4; other discs included computer games, Excel and Word computer software. One salesman, who operates outside the Friendship Store, said: "Last week it was a bit looser, so they managed to get in a lot of discs from Guangdong province. Since the crackdown, the big pirating factories are closed, but still some smaller factories make copies."

Under the Sino-US agreement, a six-month "special enforcement period" started on 1 March, including investigation of all suspected CD, laser disc, and CD-rom factories.

The hawkers by Peking's silk alley market are now more wary, leading prospective customers off the main street into courtyards before displaying dozens of discs secreted inside their jackets. But they said discs were still arriving from Guangdong, in the south of China, changing hands several times before reaching the street.

"Around May Day there will be police everywhere because it's a public holiday, so we won't come out," said the man outside the Friendship Store. But the trade was always risky. "You have to move around."

One 12-year-old boy, his father sitting 10 yards away keeping watch, had about 10 rock CDs on offer. "If you want something else, you can come back in about two hours," he said. "I've got some other people around."