Offenders to walk Olympic plank

Olympic visitors coming to Beijing hoping to pick up a pirated copy of “Iron Man,” “Kung Fu Panda” or runaway B.O. fave “Red Cliff” should be prepared to go home disappointed; Chinese authorities have clamped down on counterfeit DVD sellers in the run-up to the Beijing Games.

In Beijing, officials will be on call 24 hours a day to catch pirate sellers, according to a report in the China Press and Publishing Journal. Normally, checks are made during office hours, and the shops and stalls and street vendors do a brisk trade in the evening.

China is the world’s biggest source of illegally copied DVDs, music discs and software, and trade orgs such as the MPA (Motion Picture Assn.) say violations are growing despite increased penalties. The illicit trade is fueling tensions with Washington, which has filed a World Trade Organization case over Beijing’s failure to stamp out such piracy.

Pirated DVDs sell for around $1.50 a pop and can be of pretty good quality — although it is hit and miss, and the picture can at times be dreadful.

“Strike hard against all kinds of pirate copies violating rights and against illegal publishing activities. Go all out to create a healthy cultural market environment for the Beijing Olympic Games,” ran the notice calling for the campaign, which will be a “100-day operation against pirate copies.”

While it is hard to verify whether the campaign is having any real impact, it certainly appears to be having an effect on street sales — the vendors are missing from all their usual haunts, and many of the DVD shops that usually sell the products appear closed. Normally there is a clampdown on public sales of pirate product when someone like President Bush or a senior US trade official comes to town, but this time the policy seems even tougher than before.

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