CDotD: Just How Cheap Pirated DVDs are in China

OK, so maybe this post will make me sound like a complete newbie or fool, but I was recently in Shenzhen with my language exchange partner, a Shenzhen native and also a lawyer.  I asked if he would help me go buy DVDs and bargain, local style, to see just how much better a true local would be than me.

He asked if I cared whether or not the movies had been pirated, and I said no.  Movies are relatively inexpensive to buy in HK, and I’ve never been 100% sure of its authenticity there, as you can get packaging that looks true to the kind you’d get in the U.S., and expect to pay around $20 USD.  On the other hand, there are movies that appear to be pretty obviously copied, and costs closer to $5 or less (but my memory is pretty hazy on that).

I am not going to say whether or not we did or did not indeed partake in said purchase of DVDs, but I was floored to discover that all Chinese locals can expect a basic price of 5 RMB per DVD!  In this case, it was even less, as they were charging just 5 RMB per season of this television series I was interested in.  On top of that, you can bargain and ask for the vendor to throw in one or two freebies if you buy a lot of them.

That’s just mad! I mean I knew the practice was prevalent in China and heck, it’s not uncommon in HK either, but I had no idea how cheap it would be!  That’s less than $1 a DVD! And something in my lawyer’s heart felt it was just so wrong.

Still shell-shocked over the pricing of such things, I turned to my language partner after we left the shop and asked how on Earth was that ok and if the government did anything about it at all.  He shrugged it off and said that even though it is a blatant disregard for intellectual property rights whatsoever, the government looks the other way as its people just have to have its DVDs and couldn’t otherwise afford it.

Moreover, you could get just about anything!  I wanted to look at American television series, and the vendor brought out such a huge array.  Let’s also not forget to mention that there were also copies of movies that had just come out (with their release dates clearly  labeled on its packaging so customers knew what a hot buy it was!).  So China is hardly a closed country, as its government must also clearly be aware that its people are accessing all this American media too.

I would like to add, however, that it wasn’t exactly as simple as it may sound to get these DVDs.  We had to search around many mini-mall mazes and ask around to find a stand that sold movies, and even the spot we ended up appeared to be aimed at selling clothing and accessories, not DVDs or CDs, although it had a small box of discs on its counter.  Further, we were only produced more selections once we asked for them, and a small phone call to some mystery spot allowed someone to go and fetch whatever we wanted (including specific titles, especially once we knew its Chinese translation from the English titles).  So I suppose you can say the practice isn’t exactly condoned in China either.

Intellectual property, copyright, copying — all issues that have been discussed in plenty of other blogs and journals, obviously, but here as I live it, I couldn’t help but wonder how to feel on the whole matter.  On the one hand, it really IS fantastic to have affordable and easy access to any and all media, but on the other, artists need to be compensated and continue to be compensated in order to create more for us to enjoy.

But what is the right balance?  How much is too much, how much is too little, and how much is just right?  To be honest, I rarely go to the movies or buy DVDs or CDs because they are quite expensive in my opinion.  In the U.S., I did tend to rely on waiting for movies to come out on television, rent via Netflix or Blockbuster, or borrow them from friends who would purchase them.  Was I just a cheapass? Isn’t it a bit much to charge $28.95 for a new release DVD?

And don’t get me started on what crap is being produced in Hollywood for millions of dollars, versus amazing beauties on shoestring budgets elsewhere, which would clearly support the argument that $28.95 is most definitely too much.  And yes, I am tired of this Lindsay Lohan nonsense, and yes, I do think Hollywood celebrities are over-compensated, fawned over unnecessarily, and fuel a culture of material idolatry and waste.

In any case, it  seems that China is most definitely going to continue to turn a blind eye to the matter of media copyright (which isn’t all that’s fake in China, obviously — and further discussion on fake clothes, even fake pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, are a whole other topic, especially since the lesser quality of these items might even mean someone’s health at the line), and I wonder how China’s refusal to take a stance means overall for intellectual property in the world.  Big questions — not the type I have the capacity to tackle at all.

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