Everyone still thinks of China being intellectual property right (IPR) pirates. However things change, fast. Faster then we think and by doing so also emulating the bad IPR habits of the West. Forget about the copy shops stealing Gucci, Prada and other Western fashion symbols. That will keep on going, for sure, so does Europe (ever been to Florence, London, even Paris, where street vendors on every corner of the street sell fashion mark knock offs?).
Some bad copyright practices in Europe China now emulates. Take this recent article on People’s Daily about China copyrighting ancient images. Digital technology is being used to conserve the famous Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang, in Northwest China’s Gansu Province (on UNESCO World Heritage List since 1987). The “Digital Dunhuang” project, which aims to pool all the treasures from Dunhuang, “protects its intellectual property rights (IPR) in the digital era” as it is called by the Chinese. The Dunhuang Academy, solely authorized by the Chinese Government as the official institute in charge of the protection, research and management of treasures in the Dunhuang grottoes, has announced that “it holds all rights to images of the ancient treasures under Chinese IPR laws.” It has obtained copyrights to digital images of the murals, statues and documents from Dunhuang’s grottoes. So no other entity, business or institution, can reproduce, transmit or display the images of Dunhuang in any form without the consent of the Chinese right holder. As MaisonBisson comments: “it possible that text books would need to license images of the grottoes from Dunhuang Academy, rather than competing photographers or image libraries? Will Dunhuang Academy exercise its monopoly by raising prices? Will publishers respond by limited coverage of the grottoes simply to control costs?”. Sounds like copyright overreaching, or?
But let’s be fair. How ridiculous this may sound, in Europe we do even worse. In the Netherlands alone there are 23 different organizations collecting “copyright” levies. How justified is it to squeeze copyright levies on multiple “uses” ranging from a hairdressers shop paying for music it has in its shop for his customers, to consumer electronic outlets selling TV sets, showing how wonderful the Samsung, Sony, Philips and LG TV sets look (imagine buying a new TV without seeing first how sharp the image is?) .
It’s time for a real clean up of this Copyright Overstretch.