China Copyright Infringement: It Could Be Worse

0 Comment

If you’re in the entertainment industry and put out a digital media product, copyright infringement is a sore subject for you. Fair enough, and I empathize. We are working on a new draft of the Copyright Law, by the way. So we have that going for us, which is nice.

But as bad as things are, you have to admit that we’ve made some real progress over here in China over the past 15 years or so. Software piracy is down 10+ percent, all of our IP laws have been revised several times, and periodic IP enforcement crackdowns seem to be helping.

What I’m saying here is: things could be a lot worse. For example, while blatant knock-offs of products can still be found on street corners, in marketplaces, and certainly online, there are limits on how “in your face” the pirates can be before the government will smack them down.

This story makes me hopeful:

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has denied an application by a local director to shoot a Chinese remake of Pixar’s Wall-E because the film did not sell the legal rights to the director, according to insiders.

After filing an application to make his own version of the computer-animated blockbuster, the director drew fire from the public, with some accusing him of blatant plagiarism.

According to a notice three days ago on the SARFT’s website, the planned film is titled Robot Wali and it tells a love story of two robots in space.

The names of the film’s two main characters and the plot are almost the same as Pixar’s Wall-E.

Film producers in China need to send summaries of their scripts to provincial branches of the SARFT to get approval before they begin shooting. Every project that has won approval will be available on the SARFT’s website.

I don’t know . . . “Wall-E” and “Robot Wali”? You thinking copyright infringement or a coincidental similarity? Hmm. I guess when you put that name together with the same plot and main characters, approval was kind of a longshot at best. Kudos to SARFT for doing the right thing.

But what about this director? He said he tried to walk the straight and narrow:

Xia Peng, the director who submitted the summary to the SARFT, said that he tried to purchase the remake rights to Wall-E for 700,000 yuan ($110,000).

With that amount of money, senior producer Ben Ji said, it is impossible to buy the remakes right of such a celebrated picture.

Um, yeah, there’s a reason for that. First, studios are not in the habit of selling the rights to a picture a scant few years after it has been released, even for limited distribution in foreign countries. More likely, Disney will wait ten years and then do a re-release after the film has been upgraded to new tech. (Good news, everybody! I hear Smell-O-Vision will be ready by then.) Ten years after that, they might license the rights to a Broadway musical version — I’m thinking maybe Neil Patrick Harris in the lead role? A Chinese animated remake where Wall-E looks like Speed Racer’s little monkey pal will just have to wait.

Anyway, even if Disney was predisposed to sell the rights to Larry Loser over here, I’m thinking USD 110,000 seems kind of low. If it was me, I’d be worried that the production values would be lacking, considering this director’s questionable industry expertise:

He even says he wants to make a 3-D Wall-E with an eight-person team. When asked if so few people can fulfill the work, he responds: “You don’t know about the animation industry. It’s quite simple, just some computer work.”

Of course. Pretty much anyone can do this sort of thing. I hear that James Cameron did all the CGI and post-production work for Avatar on a refurbished Apple II.

I’ll leave you with one last thought. Our friend the director says he tried to get a license, but after he was refused, he went ahead with the project anyway. Apparently he thought that Disney merely had some sort of right of first refusal, and if they turned him down, this meant he had the green light to pursue the film on his own. I don’t usually support public education campaigns, but this guy really needs some IP training as soon as possible, preferably before he starts shooting “Taiji Panda.”

3 responses on “China Copyright Infringement: It Could Be Worse

    1. Stan Post author

      With demographic trends, I think we’re going to see a huge number of old folks in prominent roles like that. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, think Betty White!