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A step forward to protecting intellectual property in China

January 15, 2009 – 5:46 pm

Buying pirated software, movies and other digital goods in China is easy and cheap, yet it is counter-productive, as it suppresses the creative process of developing new products. As Xinhua reports, 11 Chinese nationals have been sentenced to enjoy free lunch in prison for several years. What a coincidence, only a few days ago I wrote some words about intellectual property rights in China. In this case Xinhua is reporting the convicted had copied Microsoft software on a large scale and sold it within China and also on the international market. With this sentence this Chinese court has showed some support for intellectual property rights in China.

It seems like the Chinese are realising their own situation. If they let people just copy anything it will hurt their economy in the long run. Who wants to spend money and time into developing new products if they will be copied anyway? This is a serious threat to the Chinese employment market. Simply copying products doesn’t require high intellectual skills, actually it’s pretty easy I can tell you (although I never ever did that). Especially with digital goods this is easy. Anything sold on a old-fashioned CD or DVD can be copied on a cheap homecomputer by almost anyone with basic technical knowledge. But the results of this are severe. Highly educated people won’t find jobs. Noone needs them to develop anything.

As high skilled workers are not needed two things happen. First some of the more smarter Chinese just go abroad in search of their luck. The second group stays in China and accepts jobs below their skills, which leads to a certain frustration. While copying things allows people to buy quality goods for cheap prices it undermines the development of a high tech industry which is interested in researching new things.

With this sentence in the Microsoft case a new message has been given: It is no longer possible to get away for stealing other peoples intellectual property. The offenders have been given sentences of several years in prison, and they have to pay a 1.5 million 元 fine, which is small as they made gains of 1.9 million 元 by selling the software. Copyists take care! It still might take years before intellectual property rights are widely accepted within the Chinese society, however a first step has been taken. Maybe this is also a moment to get hope that not only intellectual property rights are respected in China, but also the people itself are respected. Something China is lacking currently.

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