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Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 12 News List

China hopes new seals will make fakes easy to spot

AP , SHANGHAI

Is it a cheap fake, or the real thing?

Since buyers here can't always tell, authorities are planning new, high-tech identification seals for legal copies of audio and video products in China's latest effort to combat rampant piracy of movies and music, the Culture Ministry said yesterday.

Despite tightened laws and repeated promises to crack down on widespread theft of trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property, illegal copies of movies, cassette disks and books are widely available. Many of the counterfeit items carry seemingly authentic, but fake seals.

The new seals, made with a special "biologically engineered" printing ink and carrying 13 unique markings, will be used beginning Sunday to help consumers and inspectors to distinguish between illicit and legitimate products, said Chen Tong, division chief of the ministry's Audio and Video Products Department in Beijing.

According to Beijing-based Orient Anti-Forgery Technology Co, the company that made the new seals, each of the 13 markings will employ a different advanced technology, including "stealth" bar codes and handwritten Chinese characters.

The ministry will authorize 300 audio and video product makers and publishers to use the seals, which replace less sophisticated ones used since 1996, Chen said in a phone interview.

The old ID seals will be banned a year from now, he said.

Will the new markings prevent piracy?

"It's hard to tell," Chen said. "At least it will make faking markings and sales of pirated products more difficult because it will be easier to tell which products are unlicensed."

The ID marks used so far seem to have done little to prevent production and sales of pirated products. Peddlers of pirated CDs and DVDs sell their wares openly from sidewalk kiosks, and many bookstores have sections that specialize in pirated movies.

Movies like The Last Samurai are screened in Shanghai homes long before their premieres in local theaters. Sometimes, the laughably mismatched subtitles, poor sound and giggles from cinema audiences where the illicit copies were filmed are dead giveaways.

But with some seemingly authentically packaged copies, it can be hard to tell.

Last month, Blockbuster Inc, the video rental unit of entertainment giant Viacom Inc, announced it was ending its Hong Kong business and dropping plans to enter the Chinese market, citing rampant counterfeiting and high costs.

"The mainland is certainly an attractive market looking at the demographics," said Michael Wong, Blockbuster's marketing manager in Hong Kong. Research showed, though, that with pirated movies selling for less than 10 yuan (US$1.20) apiece, there was no way to earn a "viable return," he said.

Chen, of the Culture Ministry, acknowledged that the identification seals would be no cure-all for the problem.

"Look, anti-counterfeiting technology for currency is already very sophisticated," he said. "But there are still people faking it."

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