U.S. Movie Studios Win Copyright Case in China Court

By Scott McDonald | December 26, 2006

Five U.S. movie studios have won a court case against a Beijing shop accused of selling pirated copies of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “War of the Worlds” and other titles, the Motion Picture Association said last week.

The Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court ruled the Yu Hao Qing DVD store and its parent company, Beijing Century Hai Hong Trading Co. Ltd, were guilty of copyright infringement and ordered them to stop selling pirated moves and pay 164,000 yuan (US$20,100; euro15,300) in compensation.

The association said the case brought by Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Disney Enterprises Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., and Universal City Studios LLLP, also highlighted the need for China to open market access to foreign movies.

“It is a small step up a very big mountain,” Roberto De Vido, a spokesman with the MPA, told The Associated Press.

Phones were not answered at the court last Tuesday and representatives of the company could not be reached.

Beijing is awash in pirated videos — costing as little as US$1 (euro.76) — which often go on sale shortly after they appear in theaters in North America or Europe.

Good-quality pirated versions of the hit movie “Borat” went on sale on Beijing streets last week.

Frank Rittman, an MPA vice president and Asian legal counsel, said the court victory also highlighted the problem of lack of access to China’s market for foreign movie makers, with only 20 of the movies allowed to be released a year, creating huge demand that is filled by pirated videos.

“The maintenance of the theatrical exhibition quota, combined with the frequent imposition of blackouts on the theatrical release of foreign films … gives movie pirates a tremendous market advantage,” Rittman said in a statement.

China restricts film imports in an effort to protect its state-run studios, which have had little success competing with popular Hollywood titles. Foreign films are barred from cinemas during holidays and other periods when movie audiences are biggest.

The Los Angeles-based MPA, which represents U.S. studios in international markets, says it filed 10 lawsuits in 2002-03 against manufacturers or retailers accused of film piracy, and all were decided or settled in favor of the group’s member companies.

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