China's long march to piracy law

Motion to toughen enforcement faces two-year wait

A motion to toughen the punishments for film piracy here has been submitted to the top advisory body of China's national legislature, beginning a process that could further criminalize a commonplace act that is costing the nation's nascent moviemaking industry billions of dollars each year.

Film producer Jimmy Wu and copyright lawyer Ma Xiaogang drafted the motion, which will be presented to the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference by Liu Jianzhong, former head of the Film Bureau and current chairman of the nation's No. 2 distributor, Huaxia Film Distribution.

The CPPCC, which includes actress Gong Li as a member, is the testing ground where motions begin the long journey to becoming law in the National People's Congress, the 3,000-member parliament controlled by the communist party.

The motion, which has gathered the signatures of 30 CPPCC members, hopes to find a way to shrink the $2.7 billion in potential revenue lost to piracy in China in 2005. Local filmmakers suffered 55%, or $1.48 billion, of those losses, according to Motion Picture Assn. estimates.

Though Beijing has increased its efforts to fight the piracy of everything from movies to medicine since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, critics such as Wu and Ma contest that pirates simply see low fines as a cost of doing business.

"I am fed up with the results of many anti-piracy cases," said Wu, who claims he lost 20 million yuan ($2.6 million) last year thanks to illegal DVDs of his film "Curiosity Killed the Cat" selling nationwide for as little as $1. "If the government is serious about anti-piracy, it will implement punitive penalties and bring piracy cases to criminal court."

Lending weight to the motion and leading the effort to gather support is Shao Huaze, dean of the Media School at Beijing University and former People's Daily editor in chief. A lieutenant general in the People's Liberation Army, Shao is the outgoing chairman of the China Journalists Assn.

Additional support comes from Long Xinmin, director of the General Administration of Press and Publication under the National Copyright Bureau, and from Shen Rengan, GAPP's former vice minister, Wu said.

If Shao gathers enough CPPCC support for the motion, each ministry whose help would be needed to implement its tougher penalties would then be asked to address it point by point and answer either in favor or against. If the motion survives that step, it would be redrafted and resubmitted next year to the NPC, the only body able to enact laws.

Shao, it should be noted, may have extra motive to throw his weight behind the motion. He is father-in-law to Wu who — family help or no — is well aware that he has started a process that could take a long time to finish.

In 2004, Wu proposed a motion to clear the way for the National Copyright Bureau to turn over evidence of Internet piracy to the Ministry of Information Industry, which has the power to crack down on offending Web sites. It got into the NPC legislation process in 2005 and became law in 2006.

"To establish a law or change a law may take about two years. It must start somewhere and sometime," Wu said.