Last Updated 08 Apr 2021

Critical study of software copyright and piracy in China

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This study aim to demonstrate Chinese students’ attitude towards software copyright and piracy in China. This paper has selected a small group of Chinese student to evaluate their presumption and data were collected by using interview among this group. There are some factors which has a significant impact on piracy. Therefore, for finding out the validity and add extra elements in finding and discussion chapter will present new items which has a role in software piracy. Thus, this research has some limitation such as the number of sample and the matter of time. Hence, the result of this research cannot be valid.


In the past few years, there has been a doubt among the Chinese software users regarding the use of pirated software from the legal point of view. In addition to software users, anyone who is involved in the software copyright and piracy issues, is confronted with this question that if the pirate act is illegal or not (Croix & Konan, 2002). Answering this question requires to consider the perception of each individual Chinese software users regarding the software copyright and piracy. Whereby, awareness of Chinese users in decision-making has a direct impact on their piracy behaviour in terms of using pirated software (Liang & Yan, 2005).

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To explore how Chinese software users recognize the matter of software copyright and piracy it is crucial to understand the function of copyright and piracy protection law, In fact, copyright and piracy protection law are the subset of the intellectual property law (IP) which has been considerably enhanced in the recent years. According to a definition provided by World Intellectual Property (WIPO, 2006) “intellectual property can be anything which creates by human mind such as, inventions, literary and artistic works”. On the other side, software piracy is opposite of the copyright law in which has increased along with the extension in popularity of internet in 1999 (Katz, 2005).

Currently, China is under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement, which compels China to have transparency on intellectual property protection in terms of laws, regulations, administrative rules and judicial decisions (Panitchpakdi & Clifford, 2002). Hence, this study places emphasis on Chinese student various perceptions regarding the software copyright and piracy. The next chapter will review the existing literature review and evaluate different point of views. Furthermore, it will emphasize on methodology chapter to illustrate the method of collecting data. Moreover, in finding and discussion chapter will demonstrate and analyse the information towards answering research question and finally will present conclusion.

Literature review

From the historical point of view, for the first time, copy right law came into existence in ancient China and the creation of copyright in China was initiated by the innovation of printing by Bi Sheng in AD 1042. Moreover, compared to European countries the technique of printing had developed centuries earlier in China (Mertha, 2005). According to Martha (2005), in 1910, the first draft of author`s right was published and a number of punishments for unapproved use were established. WIPO (2006) state thatAfter the Cultural Revolution,in 1979 China entered into a new stage of modern legal system which contained the copyright structure and was an important step to connect to the outside world. Subsequently, as WIPO (2006) assert that “China has joined the world intellectual property organization in 1980”.

Bently &Sherman (2001) explained that copyright was originally intended primarily for the protection of authors, artists and composers to provide a legal foundation for the innumerable transactions by which they are paid for their work. Croix & Konan (2002) explained that the first aim of copyright law is to provide the security for author`s right from abusing in illegal way. World intellectual property organization (WIPO, 2006) defines “copyright” as legal point of view in order to maintaining creator’s right and securing his/her “work”. In addition, the term “work” is used by intellectual property law in various aspects such as; novels, poems, plays, databases and computer programs.

Generally, copyright laws are executed diversely in different countries around the world (Marron & Steel, 2000). For instance, The European Countries and North America have tough copyright laws and enforce them determinedly. Meanwhile, there are some countries which have determined copyright laws but their courts are unwilling to enforce them. Furthermore, there are developing countries in which their principles are based on Islamic patterns and do not have adequate laws in terms of copy right ( Marron & Steel, 2000).

From worldwide viewpoint, entering China to the global network has generated a massive capability in order to share and observe information through new approaches, especially byInternet (Croix & Konan, 2002). However, in recent years, the international business society has mentioned that there has been a doubt regarding China`s malfunction towards limiting international property infringement (Mertha, 2005).

Globalization and software piracy

Bently and Sherman (2001) assert that, the original concept of copyright is surrounded by boundaries’ inside of the state, Thus, the security of copyright protection will be in danger if it operates beyond the country and goes through the national world. Therefore, the fence would be break down by the development of globalization and establish copyright as boundless subject in international trade. Consequently, developed countries realize that it is crucial to make some alteration in enforcement of copyright protection across the national borders. Therefore, due to unexpected economic growth in China, it has become the main target of whole global copyright enforcement, such as US and the European Union (Halbert, 1997).

IIPA (2006) declared that the progression of globalization transforms software copyright and piracy from internal issue to universal matter among countries. Furthermore, due to the fact that China has been faced with a huge amount of piracy, it has been constantly criticized by other countries regarding the lack of enforcement and ability to protect software copyright.

Culture and software piracy

Mum (2003) argued that cultural differences is one of the most significant aspects that should be considered in China`s software copyright and piracy and has a main role on development copyright in China. From western perspective, individual’s freedom and benefits often put emphasis on public shared benefits. In contrast, as a traditional Chinese point of view, individuals are part of society and are obliged to present their creation and innovation to the community (Mum, 2003). Considering the two mentioned viewpoints, it can state that the eastern minds are totally different from western minds, regarding that in western society intellectual theft is not appreciated, meanwhile, it is a new concept to many Chinese. In addition, Yu (2001) pointed out that in traditional Chinese culture copying regarded as honourable and necessary fact.

Husted (2000) stated that the rate of piracy in China has a great connection with cultural dichotomy of individualism and collectivism. In addition, Marron and Steel`s (2000) found out that countries in which their principles is based on individualistic culture have a lower piracy rates comparing to the countries which have collectivistic culture. According to Wang, Zhang, and Ouyang (2005a) the correlation between pirated software purchasing and cultural subject in China is more expected to be engaged in the theft of software programs or sharing intellectual property. In fact, collectivist culture can be one of the great factors that might be the cause of the prevalence of software piracy in China.

The Chinese government, Communist ideology in software piracy

Croix & Konan (2002) argued that China`s government has been considerably attempting to change the legislation and policy making process in terms of prevent pirating. For instance, China government closed 9 factories from 18 which were producing pirated software’s and presenting illegal Cd`s in domestic market. However, despite the considerable reforms by China government regarding the implement of copyright enforcement, there are some domestic factors which make the matter worse (Mertha, 2005).

Lu and Weber (2008) explored that China government should consider about the economical and political environments of public and private dimensions of software copyright to cover external and internal challenges. In addition, Communism philosophy in which its main principal is based on everything belongs to society and people, rather than private owners has been existed in China since 1949. Consequently, Communist thought of copyright are fundamentally well-matched with traditional Chinese culture, because they support each other to shape Chinese people`s attitude in the direction of decreasing copyright protection.

Overall, the literature review includes variety of research areas and identifies a group of structural factors relating to software copyright and piracy in China. Meanwhile, the literature review has some limitation, for example, it uncovers the behaviour element which is crucial in act of piracy, but it will be covered in finding and discussion chapter by interviewing from Chinese student.


Generally speaking, the nature of human beings has been always concerned about what is happening surround them. In order to understand their surroundings they began to search regarding their requirements which at least named research. According to Cohen et al (2007) research is a process of planning, executing and investing in terms to find answer to our specific questions. In addition, getting reliable answers needs an investigation in a systematic manner and will be easier for reader to understand. Achieving these ends requires research methods.

In this study, the research philosophy is examined by interpretivism. Bryman& Bell (2003) defined it as an epistemological position that enquires the social scientist to grasp the subjective meaning of social action. Furthermore, the inductive approach has undertaken to this study in terms of understand the nature of problem, by which, it enables researcher to take more information about the research. (Bryman & Bell, 2003). Evaluating about philosophy and approach, now it should consider that the research method is done by mono method meaning that is qualitative and by the nature of it, has a great advantages for this research. It was chosen because the research approach was based on inductive methods and it requires an exploration of detailed in depth about data. Denzin & Lincoln (2000) believed that using this method able researcher to explain, translate and otherwise come to the terms with the meaning.

This study will carry out both primary and secondary research. The primary research will be examined by doing an interview based on semi-structured type from a group of Chinese student which will be within an age group of 22-28. The semi-structured interview was designed by some relevant questions in order to answer the research question, further information will be on (appendix 1). An interview has chosen as a method for primary research for the reason that it is one of the methods by which the human world may be explored, although it is the world of beliefs and meanings, not of actions that is clarified by interview research. Bryman & Bell (2003) pointed out that interviewing provide a wide range of data collection. Thus, it helps researcher to find out how people regard situations from their point of view.

In this research, because the emphasize is basically based on the area of intellectual property law and as far as everyone are concerned, this field is extremely complicated and cannot be expressed in closed questions. Hence, semi-structured interviews have chosen because it has a great benefit for conducting this research. Moreover, it is based on an open-ended question. In addition, Bryman & Bell (2003) argued that this approach can be used to gain different comments and offers the interviewer the chance to investigate an issue or service. In addition, it gives the interviewee an opportunity to share general views or their opinions in details. Apart from the benefits of this method, it has some disadvantages such as: it requires interviewing skill and need to have the skill to analyse the data. Furthermore, it should be done on sufficient group of people in order to make general comparison. Moreover, it is really time consuming and researcher should be able to ensure confidentially ( Saunders et al, 2003).

It is crucial to mentioned that ethical concerns will emerge as the research planning starts. As Blumberg et al cited in Saunders et al (2007) argued that “ethics refers to the moral principles, norms or standards of behaviour that guide moral choices about our relationship with other”. Furthermore, in order to ensure confidentiality, this research will only consider about the age of the Chinese students and will not emphasise on their name or their institute (see appendix 2).

To answer the research question, Chinese student attitude is examined in order to explore how they perceive the issue of software copyright and piracy and with the aim of give the sense of security to interviewee at the first of interview it will mention that the process will be recorded to ensure the crucial information is not omitted from the note taking.

Overall, in this study by using qualitative approach with semi-structured interview will prepare a suitable occasion in terms of collecting a great deal of information from Chinese student regarding their point of view about software copyright and piracy in their country. Furthermore, it is expected that 10 interviews will be conducted and the sample will just measured by their age and the interview will be carried out in person by the researcher on site at the University Of Sheffield. Moreover, information from interviews will be classified into coding and categories, which can be derived from research question and the literature.

Finding and Discussion

This chapter aims to answer the research question which was about Chinese student attitude towards software copyright and piracy. To answer this question, this research is carried out by choosing a smaller society of Chinese users, namely Chinese students, in which their perception in terms of software copyrights and piracy in China will be examined. As it mentioned in methodology, in order to analyze the data, this research will categorize and coding the data which has conducted from Chinese student attitude, then it will examine the findings and discussion and finally will demonstrate the conclusion.

The findings will categorized and coded by what interviewees mentioned regarding software copyright and piracy, for example, some of people express that the price of the copyright software`s are too expensive. Meanwhile, others pointed out that the general income of people in China cannot afford copyright products and on quarter of participants said that copyright products actual value does not deserve that high price. Therefore, this category named as cost with three subcategorized; price, income, value and coded as a software products. Secondly, half of the interviewee mentioned that pirated software`s are accessible and it can used them without any limitation, whereby, original software`s has the restriction of usage. Moreover, this opinion categorized by usability and accessibility of software products.

Thirdly, from findings it can find out 9 of 10 participants disagreed with the culture as an element which has an impact on a software copyright and piracy. By contrast, in literature review in culture and software piracy some author`s were explained that culture has a considerable relation with software copyright and piracy. Furthermore, some interviewees expressed that some issues, for example, education or gaining knowledge should not consider as piracy, additionally, using software`s for a personal need without any intention of using in illegal way is not piracy. Finally, the item that generally accepted by applicant was China`s government, which they state that the main power who can enforce the copyright law and prevent piracy is government. Thus the first section was categorized by social development and cultural affect and the later section was grouped as Chinese government, which these two parts coded as a china development. To clarify the structure the complete coding frame is established in (Appendix 3).

Cost, usability and accessibility play critical roles in decision-making whether to use pirated software or not among Chinese student attitudes. Among all of discussions cost is consistently mentioned as a reason to choose pirated software. Therefore, three subject matter illustrates from which will evaluate by participants viewpoints. Generally speaking, first of all, was the cost to buy copyright software. As they state that buying original WINDOWS XP in China is really expensive. Secondly, because of high prices for software products most of the people especially students and low-income earners are not able to afford the price.

Thirdly, they cited that the copyright software`s are not valuable comparing to their price, for instance, by installing WINDOWS XP, it requires anti-virus as well to protect is and this will cost an extra money and pirated software`s functions are same as original one`s. Thus, it is not valuable. It can assume that there is another side to disagree with their thought in terms of cost, if comparing the price of software product with other spending. Since they can tolerate with others spending, there is no reason to reject software prices.

As it mentioned in literature review chapter there were two factors which also found by evaluating Chinese student presumption toward software copyright and piracy which is constantly, government policy and culture. Furthermore, participant conflicting views about those items and stating short words or sentences; it cannot provide valuable information about significant issues such as government policy and cultural affect. Therefore, in order to generalize their viewpoint it can state that, after Cultural Revolution in China and joining to the World intellectual property organization there has been a significant changes in terms of education, technology and the level of science through out of China (WIPO, 2006).

Generally speaking, interviewees pointed out that the China government has the main power in order to prevent software piracy and change the policy towards enforcement of copyright law. Moreover, it can maintain that in spite of the power to enforce, why Chinese government does not really want to stop piracy. Furthermore, participants discussed that because of the matter of population and as China is among developing countries, government and authorities really feels the lack of knowledge and because they want to increase their literacy and awareness, they are not as strict as developed countries.

With the establishment of coding frame, this study will applies axial coding to make a connection between categories and sub categories. First, the participant’s perception develops from the issue which coded as software products with three subcategories. In the category of software product user`s resistance focused on copyright software`s high cost and poor usability and accessibility. In contrast, user`s are likely to use pirated software which low cost and good usability and accessibility. On the other hand, the interviewee which protects software copyright law, refuse to accept cost and excuses for piracy use. Second, in the category of China development which was generally analysed, it can mention that government policy in China is trying to educated and boosts the knowledge within the people, but this cannot be the reason to use piracy software’s or make author`s work invaluable.

In other world, participants believe that Chinese government does not really want to limit piracy. Form their discussion it can find out government has a great interest in piracy regarding market economy.

This study has found that in general Chinese student attitude towards software copyright and piracy mainly suffers from the phenomena which so-called Cost and the accessibility of pirated software’s. Furthermore, this paper has some limitation which will decrease the validity of this research, such as; the number of sample was not that much great to evaluate and examine the other perceptions, another item was the limitation of time, which was considerable for this research. Furthermore, it is suggested that copyright owners should lower down their retail prices of their products to the lower degree, by which, Chinese user`s be able to afford it.


This study set out to examine how Chinese student are aware of software copyright and piracy in China. A small sample of Chinese student was selected to illustrate extra elements a part form literature review, which has significant role on using pirated software’s. Furthermore, the data were analyzed by Bryman & Bell (2003). Overall in can conclude that, the fact that China started to play a more and more important role in today’s world and its development cannot be easily stopped or reversed. Therefore, like developed countries, China should redesign and change the software copyright law in order to minimize the amount of piracy in world.


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