Copycats stifle Chinese innovation
Updated: 2013-06-04 09:47
BEIJING -- It's hard to believe that a giant rubber duck could say so much about China's continued failure to innovate.
Chinese netizens have been fawning over a giant inflatable duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman that sailed into Hong Kong on May 2. Their great interest in the duck subsequently led local entrepreneurs to create copies of the duck to promote their businesses.
In Central China's city of Wuhan, a rubber duck identical to Hofman's duck appeared in a lake that is part of a real estate project on International Children's Day. A spokesman for Country Garden, the project's developer, refused to specify who owned the copyright to the design of the duck but said that copyright infringement had not occurred.
However, in a phone interview conducted by the Wall Street Journal with Hofman, the man said he had not made any agreement with the real estate developer.
In East China's city of Hangzhou, another real estate developer used a giant rubber duck as a promotional tool as well. Similar ducks have appeared at a park in the city of Chongqing and a karaoke bar in Shanghai.
The incident has demonstrated how far businesses can go in China without respect for copyright, although it is not the first or only incident of its kind.
The copying isn't limited to foreign products, either. Many entrepreneurs imitate their domestic competitors as well. An excellent example would be the seemingly endless parade of dating shows that materialized after "If You're The One," a hit dating show produced by the Jiangsu Satellite Channel, debuted in 2010.
The high cost of innovation and efficiency of imitation both make it easier for many businessmen to neglect copyright protection. Over the last 35 years, labor-intensive manufacturing has acted as a pillar for China's economy, with thousands of small businesses churning out cheap and unsophisticated products that are easy to copy and hard to regulate.
China's economic development has also outpaced the development of copyright legislation and education. Many Chinese aren't even aware of the existence of copyright laws, let alone why they should be followed.
The government has made some attempts to toughen its stance regarding copyright infringement in recent years. Campaigns have been launched to eliminate counterfeiting and progress has been made in copyright legislation and law enforcement.
But if China wishes to realize innovation-driven development and proper protection of copyright, it must raise public awareness. Legislation and education will be key to this effort.