Valenti: China must open to U.S. product

O'seas pols vow piracy crackdown -- again

WASHINGTON — Once again, China is promising to crack down on its rampant piracy problem, and showbiz is taking the news with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Commerce secretary Don Evans and U.S. trade representative Bob Zoellick, along with several high-ranking Chinese government officials, on Wednesday announced many initiatives that showbiz has long sought to curb copyright piracy.

Among other steps, China pledged to pursue criminal prosecutions against individuals engaged in the high-volume physical and online piracy business in the country — a strategy the U.S. entertainment biz has been trying to convince Chinese officials to implement for years. China’s vice premier Wu Yi also agreed to amend the nation’s laws to protect sound recordings on the Internet and take swift action against online file-swappers. And China announced plans for a national antipiracy campaign at the national, provincial and local level, coordinated by Wu Yi.

Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti welcomed the news but argued that China still needs to do a better job opening its markets to U.S. entertainment products if it is committed to providing a legitimate alternative to the pirated goods openly sold on city streets.

“China’s enormous entertainment needs must be provided through legal channels, not by pirates,” he said in a statement.

Valenti’s counterpart in the music biz, the Recording Industry Assn. of America’s Mitch Bainwol, called the initiatives “tangible, specific steps” to address the piracy problem. But, he noted, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

“This announcement is an important first step,” he said in a statement. “But we look to the Chinese government to ensure that future deeds match present words and commitments.”

Their skepticism is understandable. China’s piracy is second only to Russia’s in estimated revenue losses for the film and music industries. In 2003, piracy in China amounted to $178 million in lost revenue for the movie industry and $286 million for the music business, according to the Intl. Intellectual Property Alliance.

In 1995, the U.S. government threatened to impose $1 billion in trade sanctions if China didn’t actively respond to the growing piracy epidemic. Chinese officials promised to close all the plants producing knockoff movies, CDs and software. Though it took a year to do so, China closed most — if not all — of the manufacturers. But officials there have not remained vigilant. In the years since, such manufacturing plants have crept back into operation.

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