MPAA says China minister misread piracy note

China’s minister of culture claimed headway against intellectual property piracy and cited a “thank you” letter the Motion Picture Assn. sent him as evidence, but org officials were skeptical of the claim and contradicted the government official’s interpretation of the letter.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Monday in honor of the festival of Chinese culture that just opened at the John F. Kennedy Center, culture minister Sun Jiazheng — introduced by his longtime friend, Viacom topper Sumner Redstone — repeatedly stressed the need for stronger and better bilateral relations between the U.S. and China.

But while noting that serious issues beset cultural and trade relations between the two countries, Sun did not specifically address one of the biggest impediments to better relations — piracy — until asked by a reporter. U.S. industry executives, IP experts, Bush administration officials and members of Congress have ranked China among the top violators of international IP laws.

“Piracy is at a high level, yes,” Sun responded defiantly. “But it is not as high as before. China has already taken rigorous measures against piracy, but not because of pressure from foreign businessmen.”

The minister then listed a four-pronged attack he said the Chinese government had begun: improving China’s IP laws; educating the public on the wrongs and dangers of piracy; setting up special programs in areas of high piracy; and developing a long-term strategy to combat the problem.

“If you want more details,” Sun added, “you can ask the Motion Picture Assn. people. They sent us a thank-you letter (for efforts undertaken), and when I received it, I told them our fight against piracy is out of our own interests. We stand on the same side of this fight as they do.”

Fritz Attaway, MPAA’s senior VP for government relations, who attended the speech, told Daily Variety the letter was not really a “thank you,” but rather “a typical bread and butter” missive that “is frequently quoted out of context.”

MPAA chairman Dan Glickman, who also attended, said Sun’s speech was “interesting, but we need a lot more constructive dialogue.”

The bulk of Sun’s remarks, especially on piracy, repeated “a lot of previously articulated positions,” Glickman said. “I heard nothing new.”

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