AS BEIJING begins preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games, we will see more and more of the Olympic logo, one of the most widely recognized pieces of intellectual property -- and one of the best protected.
To be sure, fake depictions of the five rings and the logos of individual Games have plagued the International Olympic Committee and host country Olympic committees. But the integrity of the logo will be tested like never before when the torch enters Beijing.
China is arguably the world's largest marketplace for pirated goods -- from copied luxury items and medicines to bootleg versions of the latest films. Will knockoffs of Beijing's running-man logo for the 2008 Games become as commonplace?
A recent news story cited a Chinese manufacturer who observed that his government was implementing strict control over the production and distribution of Olympics materials "to protect the value of the logo" -- and it's working. Will China translate its apparent will to protect the integrity of its Olympic logo to movies, music, publications, television, entertainment and business software, pharmaceuticals and other industries that are built and dependent on effective protection of their intellectual property?
In a little less than two years from now, hundreds of thousands of people will travel to China for the Games that billions of people will watch on television. I know the kind of China I want them to see: a responsible great power, a leading player in the world's affairs abiding by the rules of the community of nations. I also want to see China as welcoming of movies and other entertainment from around the world as the government will be of fans and athletes from around the world.
Indeed, China has actively sought such recognition, most pronounced in its successful bid to join the World Trade Organization. Along with recognition, that membership carries responsibility, a duty that China has failed to meet in opening its market to legitimate entertainment industries and protecting intellectual property and the value of creativity. This deficiency is not just an intolerable burden to the U.S. motion picture industry; it afflicts filmmakers worldwide, including those in China. An independent Chinese film producer recently told me that his single biggest problem is the piracy of his work by his fellow countrymen.
During my last trip to China, I heard from Chinese officials -- all too frequently -- that the rest of the world must be patient, that we must give China more time to develop a sophisticated, comprehensive and effective system of protections for intellectual property rights. The authorities said that modern China has a mere 20 years experience -- a small fraction of that of the United States.
I reject this explanation. My first trip to China was more than 20 years ago. The transformation of the nation and its economy since then has been astonishing, made possible by a commitment to purpose and a purposeful will -- both of which have been lacking in its approach to intellectual property rights. Although China has opened itself to the world in many remarkable ways, the U.S. motion picture industry still faces a bewildering array of restrictions, hobbling its fair access to China's market. At the same time that China effectively permits pirates unfettered access to Chinese movie consumers -- 93% of the film market is pirated goods, according to Motion Picture Assn. of America research -- it severely restricts the ability of legitimate moviemakers who have invested enormous capital in producing the filmed entertainment that the pirates steal. This gives the pirates a monopoly.
I challenge Beijing to use the 2008 Games to showcase a new commitment to movie rights. Beijing has enlisted the help of some of the greatest American film directors to create projects to showcase China and the Olympics. Yet these same directors have repeatedly had their films rejected for exhibition in China. But make no mistake, their films are widely known and viewed in China, thanks to the sales of millions of pirated DVDs.
In 2008, the world could see China as a nation of fake goods, a nation running roughshod over respect for intellectual property. Or it could be seen as a respected member of the international community that welcomes a diversity of entertainment products while protecting and valuing the integrity of intellectual property.
China is a great power. Will it act like one?