Chinese Piracy. Arrrrr...
"To steal a book is an
elegant offense." That is an old Chinese saying that gives rise to the
mindset prevalent in much of China permitting the rationalization for
unbridled copyright and patent infringement amongst the population.
According to the Business Software Alliance, 92% of all software loaded
onto PCs in China in 2003 was illegally obtained. The Motion Picture
Industry estimates that only 5% of movie DVDs sold in China are legitimate.
A pirated DVD costs around 80 cents - "...literally cheaper to buy than
a bowl of rice." In fairness, I will point out that software thievery
in the U.S. is estimated at around 22% and in western Europe at 36%.
However, unlike in the U.S. and western Europe, China only very recently
has begun to pass legislation making piracy a crime. They did so only
due to extreme pressures applied by international trading partners.
Life behind the impenetrable Iron Curtain justified just about any form
of exploitation of the rest of the world's accomplishments.
it were not so utterly serious, some of the shenanigans would be downright
comical and worthy of praise for the perpetrators' sheer ingenuity.
Take for instance the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in a northeastern
Chinese city. While on a trip to China scouting out potential locations
for a KFC restaurant, a corporate team from the U.S. came upon one already
in operation. Employees wore the proper uniforms, the logos were faithful
replicas, the menu duplicated the ones back home, and even the cardboard
likeness of Colonel Sanders that greeted hungry Chinese customers at
the door was the spitting image of the founder himself. It was a model
operation from top to bottom. The only problem was that the entire business
was an illegal facade with no ties whatsoever to the real KFC.
Then there is the Cherry Automobile Company's knockoff of the Chevrolet
to reports, the car is an exact copy from "headlights-to-tailpipe."
A lawsuit brought by GM Daewoo & Technology Company, of Inchon,
Korea, was required to put a stop to it. Many of the offenders are not
easily intimidated even when confronted directly by legitimate complainants.
Even the state-run prisons have been caught producing Sony PlayStation
2 game console replicas to the tune of 50,000 copies a day (that's right,
As the U.S. and other countries pour seemingly endless
amounts of technology in the form of hardware and intellectual property
(IP) into China, the potential for exploitation grows with equally endless
bound. It is no conspiracy theory borne out of paranoia that claims
China's Red Army, still sworn to old ideals of world domination, has
agents engaged in sabotage and trade secret theft clandestinely installed
in factories and corporate headquarters all over the globe. Back in
"the good old days," Iron Curtain countries like the Soviet Union states
and China relied on procuring advanced microchips by removing them from
scrap products obtained from the outside world. I still remember the
news about the discovery of huge shipments of talking dolls going to
the former USSR for the purpose of removing the speech synthesizing
ICs. Today, Pentium-quality processors are manufactured right in China.
Factories for developing and assembling state-of-the-art aerospace technology
for advanced fighters and bombers, satellites and ICBMs have been provided
by Western corporations and governments for two decades. It is a military
build-up planner's dream come true.
Being generally an optimist,
though, I see an upside. As the Chinese people gain access to the rest
of the world through exposure in the factories, foreign movies, radio
and television broadcasts, and ever-increasing freedom of travel, they
are becoming desirous of more of the creature comforts and freedoms
that they witness elsewhere. A new generation took its first real stand
against the oppressive and empirical iron fist of the Communist government
at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Brave young souls lost their lives there
in a wanton and public slaughter by the Red Army at a time when ubiquitous
communications was getting a foothold, and the 24-hour news cycle was
beginning to take off. The genie was out of the bottle, so-to-speak,
and the world could see the brutality of the Communist system. Nearly
simultaneously, Berlin's famous east/west wall of separation between
freedom and oppression was crumbling.
Hopefully, this budding
free and open society that seems to be the general populace of China
will be less willing to indulge the breast-beating, saber-rattling generals
of the old guard. Maybe most Chinese citizens do not really want to
risk nuclear war with the United States by attempting to attack Taiwan.
Maybe most Chinese citizens do not really like their government abetting
other cruel Communist regimes like North Korea, just to be a finger-in-the-eye
of the U.S. and Europe. We can only hope this is the case. Until we
know for sure, though, we must protect our interests by seriously considering
which types of technology and how much of it to hand over. After all,
you would never give a suspicious-looking stranger a loaded gun.