I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a recent session in Beijing convened by Nancy E. Kremers, the Senior IP Attaché to the US Embassy here.

The purpose of the session was for intellectual property lawyers from US firms, together with representatives of IP-dependent US companies, to brief the Attaché on current IP issues in China. It was also a chance for the attendees to get up to speed on the many US Government initiatives in this area.

One of the biggest concerns voiced at the session was the ongoing problem of “bad faith” in Chinese trademark law. I am not going to get into that too much here because others have already covered it adequately. Suffice it to say that there is a big problem in China with “pirates” or “squatters” who register in China a brand they have simply ripped off from the West. Restrictions against this sort of thing are tougher in most other countries, but in China it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of someone who registers first, even if they do it in bad faith. This is what we were referring to in our earlier post on Chinese trademark law, entitled, Do you Feel Lucky? Do You?

One of the challenges faced by the U.S. and by other Western countries that try to plug the “bad faith” loophole or simply push to improve IP protection in China generally, is that many Chinese perceive this is being done for essentially selfish reasons, with little or no benefit for China. The fact that the Chinese are, at least during their current stage of economic development, net importers, or even copiers, of Western IP tends to underlie this perception. This state of affairs provides little incentive for improving protection on the part of the Chinese.

Anyway, the point I tried to make at the Attaché’s session was not about trademarks. What I conveyed was that the argument for improved copyright protection in China might be easier to get across in the context of the film industry. I brought this up because China’s domestic film industry suffers from piracy just as much as, if not more than, Hollywood.  Couple that with the abundance of Chinese producers, cast and crew wanting to work more with foreigners and you have a pretty good argument for lifting the barriers to foreign films as well.

In other words, not only would the local Chinese film industry benefit from better protection against piracy in China, it would also benefit from the general increase in local production that is likely to occur if the market opened up to foreigners.  Sure, strictly speaking that is also a trade issue, but it certainly is an IP-related trade issue nonetheless.

It is not the local Chinese film industry that wants to stop foreign films. Far from it. Barriers to entry such as China’s twenty foreign film quota, and the requirement that foreigners shoot their films in China as Chinese co-productions, are there to stem the invasion of Hollywood’s “corrupting” influences, which the  Chinese government sees as US propaganda or soft power. These barriers really have more to do with the government’s desire to preserve what it deems important than in protecting the local Chinese film industry.

All of this means that the foreign and the Chinese film industry should be able to work together to advance the film industry in China by expanding those who can make the films and by blocking those who seek to copy them.

For more on the legal issues foreign filmmakers confront in China, check out the following:

What do you think?