A US film industry official said yesterday that China should lift barriers that block most movie imports, warning that they are fueling its thriving market for pirated titles and hurting Chinese studios.
Beijing allows in 20 foreign films for theatrical release each year, a tiny fraction of the hun-dreds produced, said Michael Ellis, senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific of the Motion Picture Association. He said the gap is filled by pirated DVD copies, which are believed to account for 93 percent of movies sold in China.
"There needs to be a recognition that there's not going to be progress until they open the market and build a legitimate film industry here that everyone can get into," Ellis said during an appearance before the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. "Until that happens, you'll have this vacuum that pirates will plug with pirated products."
Film piracy is believed to have cost US studios US$244 million in lost potential box office revenues in China last year, said Ellis, whose group is made up of the seven top Hollywood studios.
But he said estimated piracy losses to Chinese studios were far higher at US$2.4 billion.
The 20-title Chinese import quota is based on commitments to the WTO. But the figure is controversial, with the US saying it was meant to be a minimum, while Beijing treats it as an upper limit.
US studios released 549 movies last year, according to Ellis.
Chinese officials are reluctant to ease import controls for fear of hurting China's studios. Foreign movies are hugely popular in China, but the state film distributor removes them from cinemas during high-viewership periods.
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