When Pirates Kill...

It was a bit shocking this week when the story of a young man in Lanzhou who was killed when his mobile phone battery exploded was splashed all over the news. These kinds of incidents have gotten wide coverage in the US for awhile and it would stand to reason that many, many more Chinese use off-brand batteries (or worse) and yet this was really the first public case of a major mobile phone incident. That was quickly followed up, though, with news that batteries are exploding all over, including here in Guangdong. There was also another interesting story in the local papers on Monday, within 24 hours of the release of the iPhone, a local Guangdong company released an almost identical mobile phone.

As I have seen on a daily basis from work, mobile phone piracy issues are huge in China. Major multinationals put up huge amounts of money and investigators and lawyers go chasing after the pirates. Much of the time, the phones aren't totally fake, but contain a number of real parts or have just entered China illegally to avoid tariffs. The reality is that this is a huge problem, but instead of hearing about it, the focus when people talk about IP is always on movies and cd's. Are Motorola's lobbying forces not as powerful as Hollywood? What's more important, a RMB10 disc that a person may only watch once or a RMB2000 phone which they'll use on a daily basis?

When purchasing movies, a buyer and seller both know that they are technically doing something illegal. Yet, with mobile phones, often the seller, and sometimes even the buyer, won't be aware of the dubious nature of the goods that are being sold. Also, the problem isn't restricted simply to small, hole-in-the-wall locations, you can find fake phones for sale at large electronics malls and fancy shopping centers.

So why is the US so focused on movies and not phone? Is it because, with the exception of Motorola, most of the major mobile phone companies are foreign (often European or Korean)? Is it because in the case of movies, both parties know they are doing something "wrong?" But, wouldn't that be all the more reason to go after those who sell (and especially manufacture) the fake mobiles? Further, its a problem that touches the US more than movies, because many phone sellers on eBay are Chinese or selling (fake) phones that originate in China.

So why aren't we talking about this more? Is it the power of Hollywood's lobby or is it too difficult to catch the sinners because they are all around us and not as blatant?

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