The Dissonance between Culture and Intellectual Property in China

By Gisclair, Jessica | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Dissonance between Culture and Intellectual Property in China


Gisclair, Jessica, Southeast Review of Asian Studies


In this scholarly note, Jessica Gisclair explores various complexities of culture and jurisprudence with respect to intellectual property rights in China. This piece provides a useful supplement to Howard H. Cochran Jr. and David J. Moser's suggestions for foreign firms breaking in to the Chinese music market (pp. 159-65).

A Changing China

For centuries, China has been a leading civilization steeped in cultural identity and national perseverance. China has always strived to protect its sovereignty from outside influence. John Gannon, former National Intelligence Council chairman, stated that "the Chinese are acutely aware of their history, intensely proud of their ancient civilization, and sometimes wary of the United States with its global reach and infectious popular culture" (1998, 10). The United States and other Western countries have imposed upon non-Western countries and cultures to use the West as a construct of their own identity. Since the nineteenth century, China has adapted to the modern world; and, as a result, it has changed its perception of self, culture, and cultural identity (He 1995). The rapid expansion of globalization into Chinese society poses a tremendous challenge to China.

During the last quarter century, China has changed from a "centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy" (Central Intelligence Agency 2008, 6). This change has made China the second largest economy in the world after the United States (Central Intelligence Agency 2008, 7). Considering that China, with 1.3 billion inhabitants, represents one-fourth of the world's population, no one should be surprised about its global impact. One measurable impact is China's estimated 162 million Internet users (China Internet Network 2008, 10).

The number of Internet users has led to much attention toward China's inadequate protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). For example, China has been placed on the "Priority Watch List" by the Bush administration's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). America has been pressuring China to ensure that "American intellectual property rights are protected, ... that China's trading regime operates transparently, and that promises to grant trading and distribution rights are implemented fully and on time" (Office of the U.S. Trade 2004, 2). The dispute continues as to what to do about China.

Some argue against the United States pressuring other countries about intellectual property rights. According to Robin Gross (2007), IP Justice executive director, the USTR policy "smacks of imperialism by forcing countries to change their laws and social practices to conform to U.S. interests." Gross asserts that the U.S. policy reflects narrow corporate interests of powerful lobbying groups from the movie, recording, and pharmaceutical industries. Rather than argue for more (or fewer) copyright-protection policies, some advocate the need for all foreign governments to "assure access and use rights to keep a balance between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of users" (Loren 2002, 143).

China has an interest in establishing and maintaining itself as a cooperative global power. However, it faces cultural and intellectual dissonance when it comes to IPR. This commentary examines some of the complexities of culture and jurisprudence in relation to IPR along with recent changes made by China to accommodate demands from foreign countries for protection of IPR. It discusses what is realistic with the jurisprudence of intellectual property in China.

China's Philosophical Underpinning

A country's culture is defined as a "collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from [those of] another" (Hofstede 1991, 5).

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