China's response to piracy was timely, but uninspiring
China responded to U.S. complaints last week about the theft of intellectual property by sentencing three men to jail for selling pirated DVDs on the Internet. Two of the men were U.S. citizens, the other Chinese.
That's fine. Pirates deserve jail time regardless of their nationality. Now let's see if China follows up with equally harsh treatment of thousands of pirates who are stealing everything from movies to music to designer clothing to playing cards to pumps.
One of our favorite stories illustrating the brazen nature of Chinese piracy was provided last year by U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio.
During floor debate on trade legislation, Voinovich said he had been told that a new club introduced by an American golf club manufacturer was being counterfeited and sent to the United States within three days of its unveiling.
Close to home
Voinovich then drew on an example from Ohio. He said Gorman-Rupp Co. of Mansfield has designed and manufactured pumps for water, wastewater, petroleum and agriculture uses since 1933. A Chinese company not only copied the machine, but reproduced Gorman-Rupp product manuals and performance specifications and used the company's logo on promotional material for the pirated pumps.
Americans Randolph Hobson Guthrie and Abram Cody Thrush and two Chines accomplices were accused of using the Internet to sell more than 180,000 counterfeit DVDs to buyers in 25 countries. Prosecutors said they seized 119,000 pirated DVDs in raids last summer on a warehouse and the Shanghai apartment of Guthrie during a three-year investigation.
A Shanghai court sentenced Guthrie, 38, to 21/2 years in prison and fined him $60,500. Thrush, convicted as an accessory, was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $1,200. One Chinese co-defendant was found guilty of aiding the operation and sentenced to one year in prison. The other was also convicted but was released.
It is interesting that Chinese investigators can find two Americans trading in DVDs from a Shanghai apartment, but can't put their finger on factories that produce pumps, golf clubs, purses, shoes and other pirated goods that require far more visible production facilities. It's interesting that a police state that can monitor the religious activities of individual citizens can't track the shipment of raw materials and finished goods involved in pirating pumps and irons.
We are just as suspicious of China's commitment to crack down on pirates as is William Lash, a deputy U.S. commerce secretary, who 10 days ago showed reporters fake New Balance sneakers and a fake North Face jacket that he bought in China.
"The minister of culture told me the problem has been solved, so I guess I must have been shopping around the wrong city," Lash said in a story in Sunday's Vindicator. The Chinese government responded that it has arrested 419 people in a crackdown on trademark theft and has enacted tougher penalties including jail time for violators.
And now we have seen those penalties imposed on two Americans.
We look forward to thousands of Chinese pirates joining their American brothers in crime behind bars.
But we won't be holding our breath. It's not that we doubt China's willingness to jail people. It's a country that will happily jail dissidents whether they are in Beijing or Tibet. But the greed of Chinese officials exceeds their enthusiasm for locking people up. They know that those pirates are bringing billions of dollars from the rest of the world to China. At a time when China is trying to build its economy, its leaders do not care whether their profits come from stealing intellectual property or by undervaluing its exports through currency manipulation.
The only thing that matters to Communist China is the same thing that matters to the most unscrupulous capitalist: the bottom line.
Until the United States starts to play tough, expect no more from China than anti-piracy show trials -- which will be especially visible when the defendants conveniently turn out to be Westerners.