The always interesting IP Dragon pointed to a recent article in the China Daily. This article claims that the establishment of new industry associations will help strengthen the drive to protect online IP. It then veers off course by stating how much websites have a licence to play video content, the requirements of that licence, and how much cases concerning Internet piracy had been handled. The article then claims that the government intensified supervision over major Internet enterprises, with the number of enterprises under supervision being more than 3.000. The logic than veers back to the original point about industry associations, saying how an association for audiovisual programmes on-line is currently undergoing the approval process with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. It then finishes with the standard blurb about needing to protect copyright.
I really apologize if you feel I’m playing the same old tune here, but please, what is the point of this sort of article? I fail to find the logical line of the argument, but perhaps that’s just me. The salient point here is that apparently, the government is trying to do something about unauthorized media being distributed on-line. What is the answer? Closing a couple of them down, and slapping some regulation on the rest. Sure, you end up with a nice amount of numbers you can feed into the press, but is it really meaningful? Has the perceived problem been fundamentally solved? Have incentives been realigned?
The big big problem with audiovisuals in China is and will remain not only a copyright problem, but an availability problem. As I will argue in my forthcoming Ph.D. thesis, people will opt for piracy products if they either unwilling or unable to get the legit stuff. In the US, unwillingness to pay the money seems to be the more important driver of illegal downloading, but in China, the media control system causes a lot of foreign films and tv programmes not to be available. (In this sense, China is a lot like Europe, where we get films and tv programmes much later than in America – which similarly drives illegal downloading.) When people know that they can get to these things anyway, a lot of them will.
The only thing this sort of government activity will bring about is that a few delivery channels will get narrower. But given that the P2P challenge has not been solved by a long shot anywhere in the world (remember: the Pirate Bay is still up and running), the game is still on. Moreover, setting up an industry association will only make sense if this association has the interest of protecting its members’ interests strongly, but this will require that they need to be able to take initiative on their own, but also rely on a judicial system where they can be sure to file claims, win cases and collect damages. China has come a long way in this, but is not there yet.
In conclusion: these regulatory moves seem to have two objectives: ostensibly, protecting copyright (or perhaps more cynically: playing the politics of being seen to protect copyright) and hiding behind that, controlling the online audiovisual media. As long as the priority is on the second, the first can never really happen.