Students learn piracy lesson on studio field trip


BEIJING -- Thirty Chinese high school art students were given a tour of the Warner China Film HG Corp. studio on Tuesday to see first-hand where films that often end up sold on the streets as $1 pirated DVDS actually originate.

The rare field trip -- sponsored by Disney, Fox, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Time Warner and Warner Bros. with the American Chamber of Commerce and the government of the Chaoyang district of China's capital -- marked the start of a $60,000 anti-piracy education campaign that will last through the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The Chaoyang Project" hopes to cultivate respect for intellectual property among China's youth and convince them that they can be instrumental in fighting the piracy that the Motion Picture Assn. says caused losses of $2.7 billion in China last year, more than half of which hit domestic filmmakers. Chinese authorities take issue with this figure.

"We're looking for student ambassadors and local film companies to join our fight," said Sean Mok of Warner Bros., the sole Hollywood studio with a film production joint venture here. "Because we are actually investing in Chinese filmmakers, Warners is in a good position to deliver this message. We can avoid the negative statistics and teach the positive," Mok said.

Wearing matching pale blue jackets, the boys and girls of the Beijing Ethnic Culture & Arts School, sported spiky hair and brand name sneakers. A few video-taped the visit.

Liu Yi, 18, admits to having bought "countless" pirated DVDs, but adds: "I've also seen about 50 legal DVDs." Liu wants to be a director and says, "What these people are saying about anti-piracy is reasonable." Still, he is unsure if he watched the Warner China Film co-production "Crazy Stone" on a legal or pirated disc. "Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference."

Other students in the group who asked not to be named said they regularly download films illegally from the Internet. Nearly 15% of China's 123 million Web surfers are under 18 years of age.

Trying to drive the message home, Beaver Kwei, director of development for Warner China Film, singled out one boy and girl from the group for a quick object lesson. "Your dad is a writer and your mom could be a director," Kwei said. "Piracy means they don't get paid."

The students then toured the back lot where Bennett Walsh, a producer on director Mark Forester's adaptation of the novel "The Kite Runner," explained the toil of the crew of 300 now winding up three months of shooting in China on the $20 million DreamWorks movie.

"This set took three weeks to build and we only shot it for one day," said Walsh, whose experience here stretches back to Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies. Students nodded and snapped pictures.

Summing up the day, Xuan Yun, an intellectual property lawyer for NBC Universal, the U.S. broadcast rights holder for the Beijing Olympics, said: "It's a big market with many problems, but here is where the solution begins."