Thanks to Beijing's crackdown on intellectual property theft, cheap movies and television shows have all but vanished.
In the final presidential debate on Monday, both candidates identified the United States' need to ensure that Beijing protects intellectual property rights (IPR), such as copyrights, patents and trademarks. President Obama argued that one of the main tenets of his China policy was to insist that the People's Republic "plays by the same rules as everybody else." Governor Romney echoed this point, complaining that China is "stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs." According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, copyright infringement in China resulted in approximate losses of $23.7 billion for U.S. companies in 2009.
Over the past four years, however, China's attempts to combat piracy and counterfeiting have led to remarkable improvements that surprisingly have gone unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, unless you have ever tried to buy illegal DVDs in Beijing.
In 2004, "DVD, VCD?" could be heard from every intersection and underground walkway to popular coffee houses and office building lobbies in Beijing. You couldn't walk down Wangfujing or Jianguowai without someone shoving a large selection of American television shows, pop music CDs, and newly released movies in your face. It was popular among foreigners and Chinese alike to get one's fill of Hollywood this way, especially as the quality of pirated, or daoban, DVDs improved. By the mid-2000s, DVDs made by someone filming the TV or movie screen were rare compared to high quality merchandise made from copies of the originals.