Plastics News exhibited at a trade show in Beijing from Aug. 15-18, and the experience helped to drive home some of the challenges of doing business in China.
This was the ninth edition of the annual Asian-Pacific International Plastics & Rubber Industry Exhibition, but it was the first time we had participated in the event, which alternates between Shanghai and Beijing. We weren't quite sure what to expect, having only exhibited previously on the mainland at the past two Chinaplas shows.
The very large and quite international Chinaplas is China's version of NPE. The modest-sized Applas, with about 500 exhibitors occupying an estimated 430,000 square feet in four show halls, stood in stark contrast.
The show attracted attendees from up and down China's industrialized east coast, but virtually no English was spoken. This was pretty much an all-Chinese show, dominated by local machinery firms, augmented by local reps for a few Western firms. Our Chinese-speaking reporters kept plenty busy, but the rest of us monolingual types were pretty helpless without the assistance of our local interpreter. Still, we had a productive week, making contacts, raising our profile and building our brand.
One amazing aspect of the show was the number of plastics publications and industry Web sites on display. There were nearly 50; most of the magazines were monthly and highly technical in nature. But a quick review of some that purport to report news only served to underscore one of the major, remaining problems with doing business in China — intellectual property theft.
At least three Chinese publications we had never heard of before proudly displayed issues featuring extensive amounts of copyrighted Plastics News editorial content. One oversized tabloid publication contained a multipage, English-language “special section” consisting almost entirely of PN stories — stripped of attribution. Another included some of our Chinese-language stories.
Yet another 76-page glossy magazine contained a grand total of nine stories, all in English, spread across 14 pages, surrounded by page after page of ads, including a few from current customers of ours. Every story was stolen from Plastics News, reprinted verbatim, but without a mention of the source. They even reproduced a contributed column we had solicited from a Chinese market analyst, but only after stripping out the author's name, and without indicating it was opinion, not fact.
All the publications had advertising sold around “their” quality, cut-and-paste content. There no doubt are more such cases we have yet to uncover.
Remember one thing: Our editorial content is our lifeblood. We don't make parts or machines, but rather we manufacture newspapers. Having our stories lifted and misappropriated is akin to having a valid patent violated on a novel process, compound or piece of equipment.
Seeing such brazen actions got our blood boiling. We went to the booth of one of the violators to confront them, but the manager was not available, and when we returned later, as arranged, she had disappeared early.
These latest discoveries only add to our existing knowledge of at least two Chinese Web sites using our content without authorization. We confronted one at Chinaplas in late April, and told them to cease and desist. They did — for two weeks — but have now continued picking up some of our Chinese-language stories with regularity. They usually don't alter the content at all, except to excise any mention of Plastics News as the originator of the copy. One of the original photos we published from the NPE show — taken by a professional freelancer whom we paid handsomely — also proved quite popular recently, showing up on a number of Chinese sites (without any credit to him or reference to us).
The other Web site that had published a few of our stories, however, at least showed its good faith by always including explicit attribution to PN as the story's source. When we met with them at Applas, the plastics manager explained that the practice of reproducing content without prior approval is “very common” in China, and no harm is intended. We replied that we hope to make it a little less common. And, to his credit, he agreed to stop using our content immediately, unless we grant permission. His well-known, well-regarded firm seems reputable, and may even prove to be a worthy partner. But, unfortunately, many others don't fit that description.
We're currently weighing our legal options as regards the other, more egregious violators. And it is important not to paint with too broad a brush. There are very honest Chinese publishers, and some of the leading plastics magazines in that market have never republished any of our stories.
While some in China still follow the traditional Communist mind-set that what is good for the masses is justifiable, thereby making the unauthorized reuse of valuable information (no matter who owns it) perfectly appropriate, that is not always the case. Our own Chinese reporter, for one, is incensed by such less-than-honest actions.
There is a silver lining, of course. It's obvious the content we're producing for our PN China eWeekly e-mail newsletter and companion PlasticsNews.com/China Web site is finding an interested, ready audience.
Apparently, in China, “Plagiarism is the greatest form of flattery.”
Robert Grace is associate publisher and editor.