China Web sites ink IPR pledge

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BEIJING -- Fifty Chinese Web sites have agreed to stop offering pirated movies online, signing an agreement initiated by the Movie Copyright Protection Association of China, local media reported Thursday.

MCPAC data showed that 61% of China's 172 million Internet users watched free movies online last year, led by university students and white-collar workers.

China.com.cn, 163.com and People.com.cn -- the Web site of People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper -- were among the signatories to the agreement made Tuesday, state run media reported.

China long has been under international pressure to increase its enforcement of intellectual property rights. Film piracy in China has become a hot-button issue in high-level trade talks between China and the West in the World Trade Organization.

The MCPAC said there are about 30,000 Chinese Web sites that specialize in providing access to visual arts, including films.

"The Internet is a revolutionary way to get access to the visual arts, but the public has to be made more aware of the need for copyright protection," Li Guomin, MCPAC vice-chairman told the China Daily.

Li said the growth of the market for online pirated movies was jeopardizing the development of China's film industry.

"If these infringements continue, producers might simply stop making movies altogether," Li said.

The reports made no mention of punishments or fines established for violators.

First-run films from around the world are readily available for free on the Internet in China. Some university students say they no longer even buy illegal DVDs, which are available for less than a $1 each.

In November, Beijing-based Quacor.com, an authorized online movie provider, sued two Chinese online video sharing Web sites, Tudou.com and Xunlei.com, for offering downloads of "The Sun Also Rises," the latest movie from Chinese director Jiang Wen. Xunlei also was sued by the Motion Picture Assn. in January for encouraging the viewing of unauthorized online copies of Hollywood films.

Steven Schwankert in Beijing contributed to this report.
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