Long-time residents of Shanghai know that – every June – the city’s multitude of pirate DVD shops close in advance of, and during, the Shanghai International Film Festival (five years I’ve been here, five years the shops have been shut down). That way, all of those foreign filmmakers and executives won’t see the thriving fake sector at work. And, probably more important: local officials and festival organizers won’t have to answer any embarrassing questions about the DVD shops ordinarily open just around the corner from screening sites.
Which makes me wonder: why, Saturday night, could people could be found browsing for pirate DVDs in shops just a few minutes walk from the red carpet opening at the Grand Theatre?
It’s all the more curious that those shops remained open this year, an Olympic year, during which China is enforcing and respect all of those laws that it spent the last twenty years winking away. In fact, two days before the Festival opening, Beijing announced that it was commencing a drive to crack down on those who dare to infringe on Olympic IP (and don’t even think about wishing “great success” to the Olympics at a commercial event without permission). Surely, Shanghai’s pirate DVD shops would be easy collateral in this drive?
Hardly. In fact, not only are they open, but one of the biggest (it shares a name with a US chain of video stores) managed to take out an advertisement – which included a map – in the Shanghai International Film Festival supplement published by state-owned China Daily. So much for the underground economy.
What’s it all mean? Beats me. But perhaps – as has been, ahem, rumored – visiting Hollywood studio execs like shopping at pirate DVD stores, too? Or perhaps there’s just more pirate money to be made – and spread around – than anybody guessed.