Monday, October 20, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Consequences of Pirated and Counterfeit Products

I got the idea for this post after reading a similar article in the Wall Street Journal last week titled In Defense of Piracy. Read it if you want, like almost all WSJ articles it is very well written and informative. It discusses at length piracy in the United States and outlines several solutions that could benefit both corporations and consumers. However, other than the cute narrative in the beginning of the article (mom films kid dancing to Prince song, mom posts on youtube, record industry threatens mom, mom removes), the article has a very academic feel. Additionally, the article really limits its defense of piracy to the United States, a very narrow argument considering how much more prolific it is on the global level. For these two reasons, I’ve decided to describe three situations of piracy I’ve encountered since my arrival here which I think help illustrate its yin and yang.

The Good: Although I hate to admit it, one of my big “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moments happened when I turned on my TV. The isolation really crystallized when I was flipping through all of my channels (13 of them) and not hearing a word of English. Back in the US, TV was an excellent outlet for me to just unwind and just get away from any stress or problem the day may have created. Unfortunately, I found no such relief in watching shows I couldn’t understand. My deliverer from this mini-crisis turned out to be the abundance of pirated American shows and movies you can find on just about every block in Ping Hu. The variety is astounding: from “The Office” and “The Sopranos” to “The Dark Knight” and “The Notebook.” I would say that the selection available here is on par with that of Blockbuster back home. However, whereas renting a DVD at Blockbuster may set you back about $4 in the States, buying the same movie here costs you only $1. Put another way, you could buy 20 DVDs here for what 1 would cost you in the States.

The Bad: Since High School, I’ve done the three-pocket-check before leaving my room: keys, wallet, cell phone. Even though I’ve been here almost 10 days, it still freaks me out a little when I don’t feel the familiar bump of my cell phone in my left-front pocket. My cell phone is on order from the States and should be arriving here before next week. I don’t think I have to explain why a cell phone is so critical in my present situation (not having one has made me stay on a very short, albeit safe, leash). I do need to explain why, when most cell phones are made in China, I decided not to buy one here.

Cell phones are sold everywhere here. In fact, cell phone stores and DVD stores probably exist in a one to one ratio. And like the DVD stores, the selection of cell phones is excellent…at least on the surface. While browsing around a very large electronics store in Shenzhen one of my coworkers (all of whom have saved me from numerous blunders and costly mistakes) told me not to buy a cell phone in China. I asked why. After all, both the phones and the store they were sold in looked pretty legit. Accent on “looked.” I was told that at best, only one phone of two is the real deal. The rest are either cheap copies or authentic cases protecting second grade hardware (ie putting the guts of a Sony 1.2POS model into the case of a Sony 5000BDASS). Of course distinguishing between a real Sony phone and a knockoff is borderline impossible. To make matters worse, the phones here are actually more expensive than their American equivalents (more about why this is in a later post). In the end, I decided not to gamble -fifty-fifty is barely better than Vegas odds and last time I went there I lost my shirt. The point I’m trying to make here is that I really need a phone - my situation almost demands I have one - but because counterfeiting eliminates the trust created by branding and regulation, I have to wait for one to travel halfway around the world.

The Ugly: Luckily, this is a short story and yet another case where our new Chinese friends have saved us from disaster. A few days ago a couple of us were walking down one of the main streets here and we saw a liquor store. My American colleague (who shall remain nameless to protect his privacy…I’ll refer to him as Rich C. or R. Ciesco) saw a bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf and expressed interest in buying it. Matthew, coworker and new friend, advised him not to buy it and explained that what was in that bottle was probably not 100% Jack. It could be 60% booze, 40% water or worse, 60% booze and 40% ________. Yeah, Matthew said that sometimes people will put chemicals or other additives into liquor bottles to give the appearance and taste of the spirit (sounds a lot like that milk scare you’ve been reading about lately, doesn’t it?). When it comes to counterfeiting, nothing is off limits.

Black, White, or Grey…your thoughts and opinions are welcome.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Yesterday marked one week since my arrival in China. Moving here required a contact from Cal Poly University, a supportive family, a $100 visit to Walmart for the essentials, 24 hours on planes or connecting in airports, and some guts. Living here requires a much longer ingredient list, and with only a week under my belt, I can’t yet tell you what’s on it. I’m sure that a year from now, when my contract here expires, I’ll be able to give you a better answer.