Pirated DVDs prove point at fest

Shanghai fest targets pirates

The Shanghai Film Festival’s first forum on piracy threw up some surprises at the start of the ninth edition of the event, mainland China’s only international film gathering.

Fest is not renowned for controversy, but it came close to it when one of the debate panelists screened clips from pirate DVDs she had bought the day before from one of the city’s thousands of illegal movie vendors. Valerie Lepine-Karpik’s choice of DVD also raised a few eyebrows: “The Music Box” is not only in competition at the fest, playing later this week, but the film’s producer, Han Sanping, was moderating the piracy debate.

Lepine-Karpik, prexy of the Intl. Federation of Film Producers Assns. (FIAPF), was unrepentant, despite the presence of several senior copyright authority officials, including Li Guomin, VP of the China Film Copyright Protection Assn. “SIFF should be showing antipiracy promos at the beginning of all the films that play here,” she said.

Michael Ellis, senior VP of the Motion Picture Assn., was no less forceful in his assessment of the problem of piracy in the world’s most populous nation. He focused on the quota China still imposes on imported foreign films. “We are limited in the number of films we can get into China, and that is an impediment to stopping piracy,” he said. Citing new MPA figures that suggest the Chinese film industry lost as much as $2.6 billion to pirates last year, he joked that there was some good news: “Last year, piracy rates were at 95% in China; this year they are down to 93%.”

The China Film Copyright Protection Assn.’s Li offered a historical reason for China’s poor record on controlling the fakers, while claiming that progress had been made. “The PRC has only about 20 years of intellectual property rights protection history, compared with 300 in Europe and 200 in the U.S. If people expect us to get down the same road in 20 years, they are being unrealistic.”

Composer Tan Dun (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), a surprise panelist at the debate, was less forgiving of his countrymen. “We are a fallen society,” he said to amused laughter from the audience. “We have low moral standards. If we want to enjoy a higher standard of living, we have to make the effort to stop copyright abuse. It is simply theft.”

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