Illegal online sites targeted by government policy

Tron: Legacy” was a hot download during CineAsia last week, an acute reminder of the rampant piracy in Asia — one of the region’s greatest challenges.

However, there are indications that the fight against pirates is turning: New technology means that pirate DVD shops are on the wane, and the Chinese government appears to be more aggressive in clamping down on pirate download sites.

“Yes, the Internet copyright landscape in China has witnessed positive changes this year, and more recently, since the State Council’s IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) working committee meeting chaired by Premiere Wen Jiabao back in September,” says Mike Ellis, prexy and managing director, Asia-Pacific, for the Motion Picture Assn. (MPA).

As one of the measures to implement the central government’s IPR strategy, a six-month campaign was launched in October to crack down on violations, and it appears to have sent a strong message to online websites operating on illegal content. Anecdotal evidence culled from users of pirate sites indicate that it’s getting harder for them to download TV series and films.

“While I can’t second guess the government’s political motivation for the current crackdown of IPR violations, I have every reason to believe that the online video market is moving toward a much cleaner environment that finally enables legitimate business to develop — and enable the honest people to stay honest — and will allow filmmakers and content owners to get paid for their product being released online,” says Ellis.

In January, the National Copyright Administration of China can start collecting royalties from Internet cafes and long-distance transportation services on behalf of rights owners who have their titles registered with the NCAC.

In the past few years, a number of developments have brought a change in the official way of thinking on intellectual property rights, most important being China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. Last year the WTO decided in the United States’ favor in two complaints against China related to piracy and market access.

“There of course will remain many issues for us to address, but things are moving in the right direction,” Ellis says.

This does not mean that China is suddenly open for business. The main obstacle to Hollywood making money in the country is the fact that only 20 foreign films are allowed distribution under a revenue-sharing agreement, and that number doesn’t meet the demand of the Chinese public.

“Piracy will remain a major issue for us as others will fill that void,” Ellis says.

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