Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT
China's growing addiction to the Internet has given a strong boost to the country's vast media and entertainment sector, as various online platforms work to diversify distribution channels for entertainment products. Rampant online piracy, however, has dealt a blow to content providers and operators, dampening the excitement spurred by China's alluring dotcom bonanza.
As such, the country should fight harder to kill the pest of piracy which has tainted the bourgeoning Internet economy, an increasingly vital component of the Chinese economy. Advisably, efforts should start with convincing Chinese consumers to refrain from watching pirated content.
A consumer piracy survey of adult users in China by Dutch security firm Irdeto revealed last week that 84 percent of consumers polled know that it's illegal to produce or share pirated video content, while only 58 percent identified online streaming or downloading pirated video content as illegal. Strikingly, 64 percent of respondents still opt to watch pirated content, according to the survey results.
Worth mentioning is that the findings point to a higher percentage of offenses - watching pirated videos knowingly - among Chinese consumers when compared globally. A worldwide survey by Irdeto showed that 70 percent of respondents know that producing or sharing pirated content is illegal and 59 percent are aware that streaming or downloading is illegal. Globally, 52 percent still choose to watch pirated content.
This should deliver a much-needed jolt to China's burgeoning marketplace for online video content that has come across as a juicy market for copyrighted content providers as well as illegal content distributors.
Online videos were the fourth most favored Internet application among Chinese Internet users last year, following instant messaging, search engines and online news, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). By the end of 2016, China's online video users reached 545 million, an increase of 8.1 percent from the year before, per CNNIC statistics.
In this market where nobody can afford to lose, there needs to be a concerted effort to battle against piracy, which means consumers, content providers and operators, as well as the government should declare an anti-piracy war.
A breakthrough could be made initially from the consumer side. Despite the high preference toward pirated content, the Irdeto survey of Chinese consumers found that 57 percent of respondents stated they would watch less or even stop watching pirated content after they were told that piracy could result in failed studio investment and the potential deterioration in the quality of future films.
This suggests that consumer education is still needed in the world's top Internet market to enable an increased awareness of piracy issues, and to fuel the trend that the public will give up their addiction to piracy. In recent years spending on a variety of copyrighted content by popular domestic streaming sites such as Youku and iQiyi, it is believed, has already helped shift a portion of Chinese users toward paying for licensed and copyrighted media. The fact that Chinese consumers no longer go blindly after pirated content definitely makes the case for an improvement, not just in terms of awareness, but in actual actions against piracy. This also mirrors the emerging trend in the country of pursuing higher quality goods albeit at a higher cost.
In addition, it should be made known to the wider public audience as well as content providers and operators that the availability of security and anti-piracy solutions such as watermarking, detection and enforcement has made it easier to identify and track online and streaming piracy. Content providers and operators are therefore advised to apply these solutions to draw a clearer line between copyrighted and pirated content.
On top of that, the government should get tough on copyright infringement and improve the legal framework to enable more efficient counter-piracy efforts. It's often seen in counter-piracy cases that it takes a long time to settle lawsuits, which even then may end up with a ruling that is not formidable enough to scare off copyright offenders.
If such efforts are not taken seriously, pirated businesses will continue to rejoice over the increased demand for online video content, an arena they shouldn't be allowed to access but may actually be able to capitalize on.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. email@example.com