China's Robust Industry of Knockoffs

Pirated DVD cover: 'The Incredibles'

A street hawker peddles a pirated DVD of Walt Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles on a sidewalk in Shanghai, 2004. Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Corbis

China is known as the world's biggest manufacturer of everything from socks to personal computers. But it is also known for its production of knockoffs. At a video and music store in downtown Beijing, the selection is vast and includes cheap — but pirated — DVDs and CDs.

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Our look at Chinese business examines Chinese imitations.

China is known as the world's biggest manufacturer of everything from socks to personal computers, but it also the knock-off manufacturer to the world. China is hardly the only place to get bogus merchandise, but we are told that almost two-thirds of all seizures of fake products by US customs come from China. And we're going to begin our coverage of this by going to the source. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in China. And, Anthony, where are precisely?

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Well, I'm at a video and music store close to the center of Beijing, and I just stopped in here randomly and was just amazed to see the selection they have here. There's just unbelievable amounts of music and videos, series, bins and racks of DVDs and CDs.

INSKEEP: And this includes pirated DVDs and CDs?

KUHN: Well, see, this is the interesting thing, Steve. A lot of people imagine you come here to Beijing and hawkers come up to with a bag of DVDs on the street. Yes, there are those, but now we're seeing that in huge stores, just regular mom-and-pop music and video stores are essentially crammed with counterfeit, pirated, bootlegged, you know, series and movies, music, and it looks just like the real thing. Only the occasional typo or misspelling tips you off that it's not the real thing.

INSKEEP: Now, Anthony, I don't ever want to suggest that you yourself would buy pirated CDs and DVDs, but if you did, what's the quality like?

KUHN: You can get a piece of plastic that is completely unusable, but a lot of the good shops will play these for you before you buy them. And after all, it's only $1 or $2 a pop. So for a lot of people, the choice between the real thing, where there's not much selection and a high price, and the fake thing, which is extremely inexpensive and you just have a tremendous selection.

INSKEEP: But when you mention the selection, what's the most obscure movie you've ever found in one of these pirated movie stores or DVD stores or CD stores?

KUHN: For example, I'll just stroll over to a rack here with classics on it. I see "Nanook of the North." I haven't seen that since middle school. You know, we have "War and Peace" with Audrey Hepburn. If you like series, we have "Sex and the City," "West Wing" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And this one says "NVPD Blue," which I think is a typo for "NYPD Blue." If it's out on DVD or CD, chances are they're going to have it here, I think.

INSKEEP: NVR's Anthony--oh, I'm sorry. That's a misprint. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing. Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thanks.

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