Say what you want about China’s record with piracy – movie piracy in particular – but DVDs are getting harder to find in Beijing.
Standing on any city corner four years ago, one could throw a stone toward any compass point and be guaranteed to shatter the window of a shop selling the latest pirated Hollywood hit for as cheap as RMB6.
This, of course, led US and European lawmakers to complain vigorously of losses felt by the global film industry. IPR lawyers have embarked on regular pilgrimages to pirate havens such as the Silk Alley, where they would pick up IPR-infringing movies and give them a solid karate chop. It’s not like they don’t have a point. The Motion Picture Association (the international counterpart of the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA) estimates that the worldwide movie industry lost US$18.2 billion in 2005 and that the piracy rate in China is around 90%. Furthermore, experts say that the Chinese movie industry suffers the most from movie piracy in China, as most Chinese people, well, like to watch Chinese movies.
China has long said it will get serious about cracking down on movie piracy, and anecdotally it has seemed that the number of DVD stores has decreased over the years. Not that it’s been any harder to find a movie when you want one, of course. But, with the Olympics on the doorstep, it appears China has finally laid down the hammer, at least for the duration of the games.
Having read an article in the LA Times with the ominous line, “DVD shops have pulled their stocks of pirated Hollywood films”, representatives from China Economic Review’s Beijing bureau hit the streets and did some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. For purely work-related purposes, of course.
The story was the same at several DVD mainstays throughout the city. Shelves once stacked with the latest Hollywood and Bollywood releases have been replaced with a paltry selection of “legal” offerings selling for around RMB30, if not more. Many of these are classic films, which is perfect for those who want to spend their weekends watching Cary Grant down a couple of gibsons, but won’t get the Brangelina monkey off your back.
As one would expect, the crackdown is strongest in the areas most frequently trafficked by foreigners. For the moment though, it appears that DVDs are still available the further you stray from the city’s center. At the time of writing, one establishment near our Beijing bureau’s offices continued to peddle their pirated wares. Among the offerings were Step Up 2 and P.S. I Love You, leading to perhaps a more pressing question: Why were these movies made in the first place?