SHANGHAI--Every so often, Chinese authorities here crack down on sales of pirated DVDs of Japanese anime and dramas. And like clockwork, the pirated material returns to the shelves after the heat subsides.
But some say a landmark copyrights ruling on a popular manga character could have a more lasting effect in the battle against the illegal sales.
In Shanghai’s Gubei district, where many Japanese expatriates live, stores line the streets with neon signs featuring Japanese place names such as Shibuya and Ginza.
Pirated DVDs go on sale soon after popular anime such as “One Piece” or TV dramas like “Saka no Ue no Kumo” (Clouds Over the Hill) are aired in Japan.
The bootlegs, complete with Chinese subtitles, typically sell for 15 yuan (200 yen) apiece. They appear on backroom shelves only at night.
In November, authorities seized 16,000 pirated copies at seven stores. One store paid a 3,000-yuan fine, but a representative said the store has since increased its number of offerings, stocking up on the latest dramas.
A lawyer in Shanghai familiar with anti-piracy measures likened such crackdowns to a road safety week.
“Things will return to the way they were once the campaign is over,” the lawyer said.
But Yusuke Wakebe, a lawyer who heads IP Forward, a company that monitors counterfeit products in China, said authorities have taken action against piracy more frequently and thoroughly since around 2008.
Wakebe also said regional governments have become more cooperative in protecting intellectual property rights.
Industry officials hope that a recent court ruling on the copyrights on Crayon Shin-chan, a manga character, could change the situation for the better.
“We expect that this ruling will make a breakthrough in the issue of copyrights in China,” said Katsushi Minoura of Futabasha Publishers Ltd., which owns the copyrights.
In March, a district court in Shanghai ordered a Chinese company selling shoes featuring Shin-chan’s illustrations to pay a 300,000-yuan fine, saying it infringed on Futabasha’s copyrights.
According to Futabasha, a Chinese eyeglasses company registered trademarks for Shin-chan’s illustrations and logos in 1997 without the publisher’s knowledge.
The shoes company acquired the trademarks through at least one other company. The shoes with Shin-chan’s illustrations were found on sale at a department store in Shanghai in 2004.
“The ruling will have a significant impact because it recognized the originality of not only the characters but also the logos,” said Kensaku Fukui, a lawyer familiar with copyrights issues.
Fukui added that it will become increasingly important for Japanese content producers to register trademarks at an early stage if they plan to do business in China.
Major publishers say they must expand operations in China in part as a way to fight counterfeiters.
Last year, Kadokawa Group Holdings published “Suzumiya Haruhi no Kyogaku,” the latest installments of a popular novel series, in Japan, China and elsewhere simultaneously.
“We can strongly demand stamping out pirated copies if we release genuine versions in China,” an official said.
A new, lock-fast editorial room was set up in a local subsidiary to maintain confidentiality.
Kodansha Ltd. will launch a comic magazine on May 25 using Chinese artists.
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