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China trains its cannons on digital pirates

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The Chinese government has announced a tough four month crackdown targeting online piracy in the country, just as European netizens celebrate their Parliament’s rejection of the controversial ACTA treaty.

A typically lengthy statement indicated four government departments would be involved in the action plan – the National Copyright Administration, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the State Internet Information Office.

It calls on “local copyright administrations” to step up policing efforts of potentially infringing sites and those who upload links to pirated content, and there are proposals to supervise legitimate e-commerce platforms more tightly.

The government missive also mentions increasing criminal penalties for online piracy, and urges police to step up their investigations, with sites found guilty also facing closure and having their licenses revoked.

The government also wants all internet stakeholders to turn informant, pointing the public to anti-piracy telephone hotlines and reminding service providers of their obligations to police content.

Digital piracy levels in China have historically been high in a country where the preferred option – from rip-off shanzhai smartphones to free pirated music – is usually the cheapest one.

The government has belatedly waded in of late, realising that a strong intellectual property rights regime is key to growing the economy and boosting China’s appeal to foreign investors.

Last year the government updated its IP laws to make them more relevant to the online world, and has leant on web firms to self-police more rigorously.

Last year, for example, search engine Baidu – which used to provide deep links to illegal downloads – signed a licensing deal with Sony, Universal and Warner, while B2C platform Taobao announced a major campaign to purge the site of counterfeit goods.

However, critics have argued China’s various online piracy initiatives are often little more than a front for yet more government-mandated web censorship.

Given the political sensitivity as the Party approaches its one-in-a-decade leadership handover, there’s little doubt this has a part to play. ®

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