Under increased pressure from the World Trade Organization and ahead of a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, China has launched a three-month campaign to fight piracy and pornography, the Ministr

BEIJING (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Under increased pressure from the World Trade Organization and ahead of a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, China has launched a three-month campaign to fight piracy and pornography, the Ministry of Culture said Nov. 9.

A circular posted to the ministry's Web site demands that authorities in 15 Chinese cities and provinces work to bust International Property Rights violators and pornographers from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31 and report back to Beijing by the end of February.

Even if delivered on time, the regional reports would come too late to help China's central government meet a Jan. 23 deadline at the WTO to offer a formal detailed accounting of efforts in China's legal system to fight IPR violations.

The WTO deadline was set in a letter to Sun Zhenyu, China's first ambassador to the WTO, by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman last month in Geneva.

China is also feeling pressure for change from closer to home.

The week of Nov. 7, U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr. hosted an IPR roundtable in Beijing at which Chinese authorities "were at pains," one attendee said, to stress that their government was working hard to improve interagency cooperation and the transfer of IPR violation cases to China's criminal courts from its vast administrative system.

Historically, the administrative system's punishment for IPR violation cases has seldom deterred China's rampant piracy, a phenomenon that makes it easy to buy newly released Hollywood films for about $1 per DVD.

The Motion Picture Assn. said Chinese piracy cost the big Hollywood studios $280 million in lost potential revenue in 2004.

In December, China's Supreme People's Court issued judicial interpretations that decreased the value of pirated goods seized before their makers and sellers could be prosecuted as criminals.

"Criminal law enforcement is too weak in handling piracy cases," said the circular that was issued publicly for the first time Nov. 9 but dated Oct. 18, prior to Portman's letter to China at the WTO.

Legal experts said that announcing the campaign publicly could inadvertently warn violators to lie low over the next three months.

"The circular does constitute an increased effort to fight IPR violations, but announcing it publicly could make the new campaign difficult," said Lester Ross, managing partner of the Beijing office of U.S. law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

The circular was issued by six Chinese government agencies including the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of Public Security, agencies responsible, respectively, for managing Beijing's message and seeing that it is enforced.

Conspicuously absent from the circular was the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China's top broadcast media regulator and the overseer of its nascent film industry.

"Since SARFT was not an issuer, this new anti-piracy campaign won't focus on film," Ross said, noting that interagency infighting has historically slowed the process of fighting piracy in China.

The circular stresses the importance of educating China's public about the importance of IPR to its own economic development and reiterates the need to destroy the storage, transport and sales networks of pirated publications and video materials.

Chinese authorities seized 224 million pirated optical discs in 2004 alone, government statistics show.

The circular says that authorities should "try to discover a batch of big cases, continue to discover the disc production lines and add to efforts to capture the runaways."

"If prime suspects remain at large the case cannot be concluded," the circular says.

To aid in their fight, the circular encourages authorities to engage the public to provide information about criminals and suggests that whistleblowers should be rewarded.

The circular was addressed to law enforcement officials and the culture departments and the press and publication and copyright bureaus in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing and in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hebei, Henan, Hunan, Shandong, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan and Zhejiang, as well as the Guangxizhuang Autonomous Region.