Shanzhai, Sumptuary Law, and Intellectual Property Law in Contemporary China

27 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2014

See all articles by Barton Beebe

Barton Beebe

New York University School of Law

Date Written: March 12, 2014

Abstract

“Shanzhai” denotes the wide array of copying and appropriationist practices pervasive in contemporary China. These practices often take the form of the for-profit production of knockoffs and counterfeits of all manner of consumer goods (and even services), sometimes otherwise take the form of deliberate antiauthoritarian culture jamming, and sometimes take the form of both. This brief symposium contribution focuses on shanzhai status goods and on efforts in China to use intellectual property law to suppress their production. Extending previous work on U.S. intellectual property law, the article observes that Chinese intellectual property law has come to take on, among its many functions, the function of sumptuary law; the law is being adapted to regulate and enforce China’s emerging system of consumption-based social distinction. The article is critical of this development and proposes two possible images of the future of shanzhai in China and elsewhere: a pessimistic and more likely image of the future in which intellectual property law succeeds in it is role as sumptuary law and effectively suppresses shanzhai practices, and an optimistic image of the future of shanzhai in which intellectual property law fails as sumptuary law and in which consumers continue to assert a “shanzhai attitude” inured to and dismissive of the imperatives of consumption-based social distinction.

Suggested Citation

Beebe, Barton, Shanzhai, Sumptuary Law, and Intellectual Property Law in Contemporary China (March 12, 2014). 47 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 849 (2014), NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-08, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2408022

Barton Beebe (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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