Piracy, Prejudice, and Perspectives: An Attempt to Use Shakespeare to Reconfigure the U.S.-China Intellectual Property Debate
Cardozo Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 38
88 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2001 Last revised: 8 May 2023
Since the mid-1980s, the U.S.-China intellectual property conflict has entered into the public debate. It has also been frequently discussed and debated in Congress. Despite the importance of this issue, the debate thus far has been one-sided, focusing primarily on the unfair competition aspect. While there are undeniably some greedy Chinese who are eager to free ride on the creative efforts of Western authors and inventors, greed alone cannot explain the century-old U.S.-China intellectual property conflict. To understand the roots of this conflict, one must focus on the significant political, social, economic and cultural differences between China and the West. Unless the Chinese government introduces reforms that are sensitive to these differences, the piracy problem will continue. Indeed, the problem will exacerbate as the Chinese economy grows.
To reconfigure the U.S.-China intellectual property debate, this article articulates the various differences between China and the West and explains how these differences have contributed to the failure of the United States's repeated conversion attempts. It also highlights the undesirability for and ineffectiveness of forced conversion by juxtaposing the piracy problem with one of Shakespeare's legal masterpieces, The Merchant of Venice. By comparing China's experience in the international intellectual property community to Shylock's predicament in the play, this article seeks to challenge the readers' cultural presumptions and invites readers to step outside their own world to rethink the U.S.-China intellectual property conflict. The article concludes that Shakespeare's teachings in the play may provide insights into how policymakers can resolve, or at least minimize, this century-old conflict.
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