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China's first film law ready to make debut
By Zhu Linyong (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2004-04-09 11:43

The nation's first-ever film promotion law should be drafted by May, and the final version is expected to be implemented next year, indicate media reports.

The country's film industry generally supports the law, which is being drafted by lawyers and senior decision-makers within China's motion picture industry.

Hangin' around: A huge billboard advertising the Chinese film "Warriors of Heaven and Earth" hangs on a building on Nanjing Avenue in Shanghai. [newsphoto]

Many insiders, however, are cautiously optimistic about the effect the law will have on China's fledgling film industry.

"This law is much anticipated by Chinese film artists, and it is a step towards the birth of a systematic film law," said veteran film director Xie Fei.

He is not overly excited about the process.

Many senior film-makers have been calling for such legislation for 20 years, Xie noted.

He added the pending law will be a summary of existing regulations and ordinances.

Analyst Li Baojiang, with the China Film Market magazine, said: "Formulation of the film promotion law is no doubt a positive sign China's film industry will enter the golden era of rapid growth."

Officials have constantly revised and/or updated China's film policy since the early 1990s, and especially since 2001 when the nation joined the World Trade Organization.

Those policy adjustments have coincided with changes - including greater market access to foreign firms - in the market conditions within the culture, entertainment, TV and film industries.

"Many rules and regulations have become outdated, and some have hindered the development of those industries," Li said.

"That is why the film promotion law was put on the agenda."

Renowned scriptwriter Wang Xingdong, who is a member of the Special Committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and a leading advocate of film industry reforms, agrees with Li.

"China's film sector has become increasingly market-oriented, while the former planned economy has collapsed," he noted.

"There must be favourable conditions, including implementation of relevant laws, to ensure the healthy expansion of China's film industry."

Wang, for four consecutive years, has called for a film-rating system in China to simplify film-examination procedures, to reduce unnecessary risks for films' investors and to protect Chinese youth.

The first rough outline of the film promotion law was drafted in 1984, during a film industry conference, called by SFB, in Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou Province, Wang said.

"But it seems policy-makers will only consider it when the Chinese film market reaches a critical point, as it has today," Wang added.

He compares the proposed law with a "sword," a "shield," a "traffic-light system," a "passport" and a "statute book."

As a "sword," the law is expected to guard against copyright infringement and protect the lawful rights of all parties in China's film industry, Wang explained.

Piracy has long plagued China's music and film industries, Wang said.

In some regions of the country, pirated VCDs and DVDs have held about 90 per cent of the markets, which has resulted in losses worth hundreds of millions of yuan for copyright owners.

As a "shield," the film law is expected to protect the due rights of all parties in China's film sector.

Those parties include, among others, films' producers, investors and distributors, movie theatres' owners and broadcasters, Wang said.

As a "traffic light," the law - through its film rating system and enforcement measures - is expected to protect Chinese youth.

As a "passport," the law is expected to put China's film industry and Chinese film-makers on an equal footing with their overseas counterparts in the global film market.

"Implementation of the film promotion law could lay the solid legal basis for smooth international exchanges, the trading of film-related products and the free flow of talented industry employees," Wang said.

As a "statute book," the law will replace several government circulars, regulations and ordinances that are not necessarily compulsory, stable, normal and/or accurate.

"A well regulated film industry will surely grow more freely and more quickly," Wang said.
"As the law draws a clear line between what can be done and what cannot be done, many man-made hindrances and injustices can be avoided in the industry."

However, Li Bolun, chairman of Beijing Century Hero Film and TV Co Ltd, said existing film policies have not resolved all of the issues hampering the brisk development of China's film industry.

He said he hopes the new law will contain tax exemptions for private and overseas film production companies, and will establish a film financing and funding mechanism.

Wang Zhongjun, president of Huayi Brothers Taihe Film Investment Co, said the law must also outline clear criteria for the market entry of private and overseas investment.

Yu Dong, general manager of Poly Bona Film Distribution Co Ltd, hopes the law will protect the rights of copyrights owners and film distributors.

"Besides the rampant piracy, irregularities in the distribution sector, such as widespread unauthorized screenings in cinemas in certain regions, severely hurt the film industry," Yu said.

Many industry analysts suggest the law should eliminate monopolies - the China Film Group Corp has long been the sole importer of overseas films - and allow the market to decide which distributors will be the big winners and losers.

"What the film promotion law will be about is vague. We might as well wait and see how much the law benefits the film-makers and the film industry," Xie said.


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