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Recording firms target karaoke fad in China

March 04, 2004|Joe McDonald | Associated Press

BEIJING — Recording companies, including Time Warner and EMI Group, are launching a campaign to force thousands of Chinese karaoke bars to start paying for the tunes their patrons croon to, a lawyer for the companies said Wednesday.

The move by 49 foreign and Chinese firms marks the start of a new battle over rampant piracy in China of movies, designer fashions and other intellectual property.

Lawyers have sent letters to "several thousand" karaoke parlors throughout China demanding they pay copyright fees, said Guo Chunfei of the Beijing Tianwei law firm.

"As far as I know, no karaoke parlor here in China pays fees. That's why it is urgent to resolve this," Guo said. She said the companies hope to reach agreements without going to court.

Karaoke is hugely popular in China, where bars, hotels, restaurants and some homes are equipped with karaoke rooms. In bigger cities, karaoke parlors are neon-lighted, multistory entertainment palaces with bars, private lounges and space for hundreds of patrons. Karaoke bars can be found in the tiniest towns.

The music often comes from illegally duplicated recordings, with no fees paid to copyright holders.

In most countries, licensing organizations collect fees from karaoke operators or companies that manufacture music discs.

In the United States, karaoke bars are supposed to get a license from groups such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, said Jim Steinblatt, an ASCAP spokesman. The license is an all-in-one agreement that gives companies permission to use all of ASCAP's properties.

Guo said the scale of the recording companies' effort to secure copyright fees in China is so huge that her firm has retained 40 other Chinese firms to help pursue violators. The lawyer said she didn't know how much money would be involved.

Despite repeated promises by the government to crack down, China's piracy industry continues to copy everything from Ralph Lauren shirts to Microsoft software. Copies of new Hollywood movies are readily available for as little as 50 cents on the streets of Beijing.

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