The Politics of Piracy: Intellectual Property in Contemporary China

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By Andrew C. Mertha

China is by far the world's leading producer of pirated goods - from films and books to clothing, consumer electronics to aircraft parts. As China becomes a full participant in the international economy, its failure to enforce intellectual property rights is coming under escalating international scrutiny. What impact does external pressure have on China's developing legal regime for intellectual property?

The conventional wisdom sees a simple correlation between greater pressure and better domestic compliance with declared national policy. Mertha's research tells a different story: external pressure may lead to formal agreements with Beijing, resulting in new laws and official regulations, but it is China's complicated network of bureaucracies that decides actual policy and enforcement. The structure of the administrative apparatus that is supposed to protect intellectual property rights makes it possible to track variation in the effects of external pressure for different kinds of intellectual property.

Mertha shows that while the sustained pressure of state-to-state negotiations has shaped China's patent and copyright laws, it has had little direct impact on the enforcement of those laws. By contrast, sustained pressure from inside China, on the part of foreign trademark owners and private investigation companies in their employ, provide a far greater rate of trademark enforcement and spurs actions from anti-counterfeiting agencies.


Andrew C. Mertha is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies, and the Earle H. and Suzanne S. Harbison Faculty Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, USA.


Publication Year: 2005
258 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-337-4, Paperback

NUS Press