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Pirate’s Paradise

May 19th, 2010

A reader mentions a copyright infringement case involving Expo Shanghai in an email:

The Chinese government spent RMB 10,000,000 [US$1.5 million] commissioning a theme song for the Shanghai World Fair, only to discover two weeks before opening that the song was cribbed from a Japanese song from the 1990s. Rather than scramble to come up with a new song, the Chinese government paid the copyright owner a JPY 300,000,000 [US$3.3 million] royalty.

Japanese papers apparently broke the news, and there’s been some criticism over the last-minute rights deal. China’s use of the song, some say, nearly sanctions the infringement. Not allowing the song to be played might have been a better message to send to an economy seen as a “pirate’s paradise” (盗版天国).

China is of course not the only place where songwriters suffer copyright infringement. The U.S. is home to a number of famous cases, including the one in which George Harrison was sued for “My Sweet Lord,” a rip-off of the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine.” Even Mozart was said to have been a creative collaborator.

Some of the differences between music copyright infringement in the U.S. and China include (a) in the U.S., it is easier to obtain justice, and (b) fewer folks in China are bothered by piracy generally speaking. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, piracy can be seen in China as a positive value, some even make the claim that it is nothing more than flattery.

I’m sure the Japanese songwriter who picked up that unexpected 300 million yen (US$3.3 million) was indeed flattered.


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