Copyright infringement and use of counterfeit goods in China could downgrade a citizen's "social credit" with lifelong consequences as the country gears up to overhaul its IP laws and institutions.
Following the evolution that the United States made in the late 19th century*, Chinese businesses are growing away from their roots as shady copycats to high-tech global pioneers, and the People's Republic is taking IPRs much more seriously than it used to. Not so long ago it mused about collectivising digital property rights, now it's all about promoting and strengthening the market for trading rights, and this is reflected in the latest five-year IP plan, which encompasses trademarks, patents and copyright.
China is now the world's number-one global applicant for both trademarks and patents, the plan notes.
It's going to revise Patent Law, Copyright Law, Anti-Unfair Competition Law, and Regulations on the Protection of New Plant Varieties. Part of the intention is to preserve Chinese culture and traditions. Goals include protecting and promoting Chinese culture, eco-friendly development and biotech. The plan covers very new areas (genes) as well as the very old ("folk literature and art" and folklore). Integrated circuit design is included for the first time.
Non-Chinese companies are likely to say the measures are long overdue – and will wish they apply to non-Chinese IPRs too. Any trip in a Chinese shopping mall will reveal brand and trademark infringement on an epic scale.
"The proportion of intellectual property-intensive industries in gross domestic product (GDP) has significantly increased and become a new momentum of economic growth," the plan notes. It will also turn antitrust gunfire on IP holders, and introduce new mediation frameworks.
But clearly wary of the Americanisation of cultural goods and brands, the Chinese want to "create a number of large-scale, intensive, specialised copyright enterprises, promote [the] healthy and rapid development of copyright industry" and also "encourage the formation of a number of boutique brands with radio and television broadcast production and operation agencies, to create fine film and television program copyright and copyright industry chain."
A few years ago one Conservative minister told The Register that the government wasn't keen to be seen to punish "teenagers in bedrooms" for downloading music, movies and games – but the People's Republic isn't quite so squeamish.
The IPKat blog notes "that for the first time that the intentional infringement, including clear patent infringement, becomes part of the social credit evaluation system (which punishes those who deviate and rewards those who act beneficially in the eyes of the government). Therefore, IP infringements can have long term negative effects on infringers."
The controversial "social credit score" is being devised by the government in partnership with internet companies and rollout is planned for 2020. It echoes Black Mirror's "Nosedive" dystopia, a tyranny where low-graded citizens are denied access to services. The difference is that in the fictional tyranny, people rate each other, while the Chinese social credit system collates information from a variety of sources including minor traffic offences.
*The rogue nation arguably sent Charles Dickens to an early grave, as the USA was outside the copyright system. Dickens railed at "the exquisite justice of never deriving sixpence from an enormous American sale of all my books". Forced to undertake nonstop theatrical performances reading his work, Dickens died aged 57 from over-exhaustion.