Chinese pirates can’t touch the Brits and the French

Who is stealing the most American movies? Hint: Don't go looking in the Far East for the most rapacious plunderers.

Topics: China, Globalization, How the World Works, Copyright, Intellectual Property,

Nearly all statistics proffered by the software or entertainment industry purporting the “losses” attributable to copyright infringement are bogus. If a friend rips a copy of the most recent LCD Soundsystem album and burns it for me, it does not necessarily follow that, had he been prevented from doing so, I would automatically go buy the album. Instead, I just might not bother. Either way, the record company gets nothing — so no “losses.” In fact, the opposite might be true. The record company might lose money because it prevented me from hearing the album. Now I might not be intrigued enough to buy copies of the band’s other album, or tickets to a show, or be willing to recommend them to someone else who might be interested in buying them. And so on.

Aaron Schwabach, a law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, correctly cautions us against taking seriously any of the numbers bandied about with respect to intellectual property piracy in his forthcoming article, “Intellectual Property Piracy: Perception and Reality in China, the United States, and Elsewhere.” (Thanks to China Law Blog for the tip.)

But even if you do accept the numbers, a close look at them provides some surprises for those who have bought into the concept of China as the Great Rogue Pirate Nation.

Schwabach deconstructs a study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association that determined that U.S. movie studios “lost” $6.1 billion to piracy in 2005.

Eighty percent of those “losses” came from overseas.

The three countries at the top of the list? Mexico, the United Kingdom and France.

China came in sixth. But if you crunch the numbers per capita, then China falls way down the list.

And then, of course, there’s the American-on-American piracy problem.

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Just as more Americans have died from contaminated American-grown spinach than from imported Chinese produce, domestic piracy probably costs the U.S. content industry more money than piracy in any other country (although not more than in all other countries combined).

Schwabach is a lively writer and he backs up his thesis, “The problem of IP piracy in China is really not as bad as all that,” with voluminous footnotes. It’s a good read, especially if you care about making careful distinctions about the dreadful threat posed by Asian piracy.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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