Volume 20 Numbers 3 & 4, 2010
Internet software piracy in China: Technology, culture and patriotism
China's entry into the global networked society has raised considerable debate over what benefits are derived from the development and expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) locally and globally. From a global perspective, such connectivity has created the capacity for China to communicate and share information through new developments in ICTs, particularly those related to the Internet. However, such developments raise two sets of hotly debated issues critical to the credibility and stability of China’s membership to the global networked society: access and civil liberties. According to Nicol (2003), access deals with making it possible for everyone to use the Internet and other media, and civil liberties include “human rights such as freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the right to communicate, and intellectual property rights” (p. 11).
Without diminishing the critical issues relating to human rights, the major concern of the international business community has been China’s failure to deal adequately with intellectual property violations. Since the mid-1990s, western countries, led by the United States, have directed criticism at China’s infringement of intellectual property rights. For example, a 2000 report on intellectual property issues in China indicates that illegal software products held 80 per cent of the domestic software market (Interfax Information Services, 2000). The Business Software Alliance (BSA, 2004), an international organization to promote anti-piracy movement for software use, supports this finding with research indicating that the software piracy rate in China was 90% in 2004, ranking third worldwide, after Vietnam (92%) and Ukraine (91%).
The notorious piracy situation in China draws many scholars' attention, and they start to study the issues of copyright and piracy from different perspectives. Wang (2003) examines the existing studies about piracy in China, and finds that they, though focusing on different factors, more or less adopt the same approach of political-economy that is useful to uncover a series of tensions involved in global software copyright enforcement, for example, the tensions between developed and developing countries, between software owners and software users, between transnational capital and social interests of local countries, and between western civilization embedded with the concept of software copyright and Confucianism that is prevalent in Chinese culture and history.
However, Wang (2003) points out that from the approach of political economy, issues of copyright and piracy can only be understood in, and be reduced to, the context of a totalizing capitalistic inscription. The approach of political economy is useful in explaining the tensions between material and human factors (i.e., software users, software owners, China, and foreign developed countries) under the structure of the global economy, but fails to acknowledge the cultural, ideological, and technological dynamics as a result of ongoing interaction between local specificities and globalization. Instead, Wang (2003) advocates a network- and process-oriented approach for the study of copyright and piracy in China to discover the complex underlying mechanism embedded with a variety of material/non-material and human/non-human factors (also see: Wang and Zhu, 2003).
Following Wang’s (2003) network/process-oriented approach, this paper attempts to unpack the complex mechanism relating to Internet software piracy, a new type of software piracy enabled by advanced network technology. This study examines Internet software piracy, from the perspective of one of the least examined but critical interest groups, that of the user. With China’s Internet user numbers rising to 253 million in 2008 (CNNIC, 2008, August), the largest in the world, understanding the perceptions of this predominantly youth cohort towards Internet software piracy provides deeper and richer insights about how human/material and non-human/non-material factors interact with one another and exercise combined impacts over Chinese software users’ perceptions about Internet software piracy. Given that existing studies have adequately addressed political-economic tensions in software copyright and piracy (s ee: Yu, 2001; Mum, 2003; Lu, 2007; Lu and Weber, 2008), this study emphasizes exploring non-human/non-material factors influencing Chinese users’ perceptions about Internet software piracy (i.e., technology, culture, and ideology), and mapping out their interactions with human/material factors (i.e., software owners, software users, China, and foreign developed countries).
Internet software piracy: Technology, corporate, and globalization
According to SIIA (2006), Internet software piracy refers to "the uploading of commercial software (i.e., software that is not freeware or public domain) on to the Internet for anyone to copy or copying commercial software from any of their services." Internet software piracy generally takes the following forms: auction site piracy; BBS (Bulletin Board Services) and News group piracy; FTP (File Transfer Protocol); warez1; peer-to-peer; cracks/serial numbers sites; and Internet Relay Chat. Of these, BBS and news group piracy, FTP, and peer-to-peer are more widely used.
Internet software piracy is enabled by the advent of network technology that fundamentally changes production, distribution, consumption of the entire software piracy industry. BSA (2006) explains the differences between traditional offline piracy and Internet piracy. In traditional offline piracy, unauthorized copying of software requires physical exchange of floppy disks, CDs or other physical media. However, the Internet allows products to move from computer to computer with no physical media transaction and little risk of detection. Some piracy schemes may even involve computers without the owner's knowledge. Piracy that once required an understanding of complex computer codes can now be done with the click of a mouse. BSA (2006) points out three kinds of threats imposed by the Internet piracy. First, explosive growth in the home and office Internet user populations has transformed the online world into a vast, borderle ss, sleepless marketplace for goods, including pirated software. Second, Internet accessibility has increased dramatically alongside advances in technology. Many of the barriers to entry that once existed - cost, bandwidth and other technical limitations, the need for computer sophistication - are being lowered or removed. Finally, at present, Internet piracy offers a lower risk of detection than many other forms of unauthorized distribution.
The advance of network technology creates tremendous difficulties for software companies to enforce copyright protection in cyberspace with a large online piracy market, fast transmission speed, and low risk of being detection. However, network technology also allows software companies to exercise even stricter control over software users. Lessig (1999) defines this new form of control as “code-based regulation,” enabling software companies to control the flow of the Internet content through centralized ownership of the programming architecture − the software code, which would dictate exactly what could be done within the Internet so that one company is able to manipulate the code to stop peer-to-peer piracy and other copyright violations. Lessig (1999) recognizes that the market power under control of software companies plays a decisive role in code-base regulation, resulting in substantial restrict ion of expression and commodification of online behaviors. Under code-based regulation, anonymity, the free flow of information and ideas, and piracy would be seriously hampered as marketplace activities move into a dominant position within cyberspace.
The extensive control of software companies, facilitated by network technology, intensifies the existing tensions between software companies and software users. Strangelove (2005) suggests that the extensive control imposed by corporations upon consumers and citizens through technology, corporate alliances, Internet architecture, and law would not be fully realized but invite more struggles and confrontations from the public. The deviance of consumers and citizens is expressed in the form of a wide range of increasing uncontrolled illicit behaviors, including copyright and trademark violations, unrestricted expression, and digital piracy. Considering pervasive deviant behaviors by consumers, Strangelove (2005) anticipates that highly intensified systems of regulation will face substantial subversion, and the combination of resistance, deviance, and competition and conflicts within the corporate sector would b ring the Internet into a stable state.
As global trade in intellectual property goods over global computer networks develops and as digital economies evolve, tensions between copyright owners and copyright users have been transformed into international conflicts between developed countries as copyright owners, and developing countries as copyright users. Stein and Sinha (2002) suggest that developed countries have exerted political and economic pressure, often in the form of international treaties and organizations, on countries that fail to enforce copyright. Wang (2003) notices the rise of international copyright regimes, such as WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and WTO (World Trade Organization), the increasingly trade-oriented global governance of copyright, and the further subjugation of domestic to global trade regimes. Therefore, global copyright protection is supported by “the formidable power of transnational capital as re presented by copyright industries, [and by] the embeddedness of technology and transnational legal and trade regimes under capitalism” (Wang, 2003, p. 35). Pang (2006) advances this notion of control a step further by pointing out the formation of global copyright hegemony through the efforts of international copyright regimes and their local delegations. According to Pang (2006), global copyright hegemony defines and re-defines social identities and relations in economy, politics, and culture to reinforce and perpetuate historically constructed uneven distribution of copyright production and consumption, as the developed world has become home to copyright owners, while the developing world houses the users.
The concept of global copyright hegemony changes software piracy from a single economic issue to a multi-dimensional issue including economy, politics, culture, and ideology. In Pang’s (2006) definition, the notion of global copyright hegemony follows the approach of political-economy under which non-material/non-human factors, such as technology, ideology, culture, and ethics, are reduced to the tools used by human/material factors to support or resist copyright hegemony. However, Wang (2003) rejects the over-simplified function of non-material/non-human factors. Instead, he advocates a network-and-process-oriented spatial approach that gives independent treatment to non-human/non-material factors, and allows more nuanced and complicated interactions between human/material factors and non-human/non-material factors besides resistance and confrontation.
Actor-network theory: A new approach for piracy study
Wang and Zhu (2003) indicate that the process/network-oriented approach is based on actor-network theory. According to Tatnall and Gilding (1999), “Actor-network theory, or the ‘sociology of translations’, is concerned with studying the mechanics of power as this occurs through the construction and maintenance of networks made up of both human and non-human actors” (p. 959). Law (1991) points out that heterogeneous networks could be made up of people, organizations, agents, machines, and many other objects; and tasks for the actor-network theory are to explore the ways that the networks of relations are composed, how they emerge and come into being, how they are constructed and maintained, how they compete with other networks, and how they are made more durable over times. So Law (1992) defines the actor-network diagnosis of science as “a process of heterogeneous engineering in which bits and pieces from the social, the technical, the conceptual, and the textual are fitted together, and so converted (or translated) into a set of equally heterogeneous scientific products” (p. 2) .
Actor-network theory has proved useful in studying the creation and diffusion of science and technology innovations (see Hanseth, 2006; Frohmann, 2006; Goguen, 2006). What distinguishes actor-network theory from existing approaches in social studies of science and technology is its revolutionary move to break down the walls between a series of conceptual dichotomies such as nature versus society, human versus non-human, and technology determinism versus social shaping. Given that actor-network theory’s methodology integrates scientific realism, social constructivism, and discourse analysis in its central concept of hybrids, its theoretical richness derives from its refusal to reduce explanations to either natural, social, or discursive categories while recognizing the significance of each (Frohmann, 2006).
Applying actor-network theory to piracy study in China, Wang and Zhu (2003) indicate that the network/process-oriented approach is useful for breaking through the boundaries between various piracy studies in a number of disciplines. The inclusion of the findings from a wide range of disciplines is never a simple hodgepodge, but a well-organized, well-connected network. According to Wang (2003), the network/process-oriented approach conceptualizes software piracy as a web consisting of nodes and hubs that represent human/non-human and material/non-material actors relating to copyright and piracy. Just as important is to map out the complex operating mechanism with regards to directions, movements, and forces that connect these nodes and points, as well as the ever-changing alignment and configuration of the web itself (Wang, 2003).
The complex operating mechanism in piracy study can be explained by the model of translation, which refers to:
Latour (1986) suggests that the translation process is determined by the different ways actors react to the innovation, who may modify it, deflect it, betray it, add to it, appropriate it, or let it drop. Monteiro (2006) argues that different interests of actors can be translated into specific needs, and the specific needs are further translated into more general and unified needs so that these needs might be translated into one and the same solution. The success of this transformation process depends on the strategies adopted by one actor to identify other actors and arrange them in relation to each other (Callon Courtial and Turner, 1983). Wang (2003) uses the translation model to deal with the global/local dichotomy in the study of copyright and piracy in China. Wang (2003) argues that it is more important to examine th e specific links and connects that transport and translate between the local and the global than to exclusively focus on global network and local setting as isolated phenomena. Thus, the study of piracy is significant in adding the middle part and linkage to a dichotomized attention to the macro/global/production and the micro/local/reception aspects (Wang and Zhu, 2003).
Actor-network theory provides an integrated approach for piracy study by linking a variety of related factors and exploring interactions among them. This approach enables researchers to condense seemingly-disconnected studies on the various levels into a dynamic network. This study adopts actor-network theory to interpret Chinese users’ online discussions about Internet software piracy.
To answer the research questions, the study examines users’ online postings at Tianya Community (www.tianya.cn), one of the most popular mainstream online forums in China. Established in March 1999, as of 2007 this BBS forum displayed over 300 public discussion boards and 210,000 personal weblogs. Within this community website, users exchange information and provide online social support to each other on a variety of topics including issues relating to software copyright and piracy.
Five bulletin board services were identified as sites in which software piracy were discussed extensively within the Tianya Community: IT Vision, Computer Networks, Economics, Law, and Zatan. Each forum was surveyed by using the internal search engine with the keywords of “piracy”, “software copyright”, “copyright”, “software piracy”, and “software download”. The search retrieved 561 posting threads with 6,150 individual postings ranging from March 1, 1999 to June 30, 2007.
Lindlof and Taylor’s (2002) qualitative research methods are adopted to identify main themes emerging in retrieved postings. Drawing on classic grounded theory, Lindlof and Taylor’s (2002) methods include a complete set of coding steps, such as initial reflective thinking, open coding, constant comparative coding, and axial coding. Coding of user posts and comments to the five BBS sites produces a complete coding frame (see Table 1). It includes five major categories: software products, software developers, foreign developed countries, China development, and debates over software copyright and piracy. Under five major categories, there are 15 subcategories: cost, usability & accessibility, pricing strategy, anti-piracy strategy, market expansion strategy, service, foreign developed countries in software copyright and piracy, foreign developed countries in histor y, social development, economic development, Chinese government, defining software copyright & piracy, general debate, moral debate, and legal debate.
The analysis of identified themes and categories uncovers three major non-human/non-material factors affecting Chinese users’ perceptions about Internet software piracy. They are network technology, Chinese culture, and patriotism. These factors interact with human/material factors (i.e., software companies, software users, and foreign developed countries) and consist of an integrated approach to moderate existing tensions between software users and software owners as well as between China and foreign developed countries in terms of software copyright and piracy.
Research indicates that network technology facilitates piracy activities of software users (see: BSA, 2006; SIIA, 2006). The impacts of network technology are first expressed in users' talking about software products. In the category of software products, network technology serves to lower price and improve accessibility. One participant recalls his experience about software download3:
The author compares copyright software, pirated discs, and the Internet piracy. He finally decides to download software from the Internet. Cost is the most important reason for him to choose the Internet piracy, because 1) he almost pays nothing for online download and 2) online download can protect his DVD readers. Besides the cost advantage of the Internet piracy, some participants emphasize accessibility.
These two postings talk about accessibility from different perspectives. The first is about how easy the Internet piracy is (i.e., click mouse). The second is about how this convenience helps decrease the author’s sense of guilt in access to pirated products. In the category of software products, users' discussion about advantages of the Internet piracy reflects Rogers' (2003) position that relative advantages, such as cost and convenience, influence whether an innovation would be adopted by individual users. Compared to copyright products and pirated discs, Internet piracy possesses relative advantages in cost and convenience. As a result, many software users would rather download software online than purchasing pirated software discs at an offline market. One user expresses his preference for software download as well as his hatred of pirated discs.
Internet piracy represents a kind of third power that breaks the existing market structure distributed between copyright software and pirated software discs. As more and more people go to the Internet for software download, pirated discs purchased at offline markets gradually lose advantages in competition with copyright products. This change is noticed by one participant who observes the underground piracy market.
The author's observation indicates that broad adoption of Internet piracy shrinks the market's demand for pirated software discs. Without large demand, the sales of pirated discs are unable to maintain high profit margin. Comparatively, the sales of copyright software products become more profitable. In addition, the sales of pirated discs are illegal and likely to be punished by copyright administrations. Many software vendors, therefore, give up the sale of pirated discs. In this way, the underground piracy industry is seriously crippled and copyright software products dominate the offline market in China.
To some extent, network technology enables software copyright owners to win the war against underground piracy producers and achieve full control over the offline market. As a result, software piracy retreats from the offline market to cyberspace. In this process, software piracy is changed from a profit-oriented business activity exercised by piracy producers into a non-profit social/relational activity conducted by individual software users. This change makes software users adopt discriminative attitudes towards software download and offline purchasing. As one participant mentions:
According to his philosophy, software download is not the same business transaction as offline piracy purchasing, because there is no profit involved in it. He argues that he paid for the network access and should have rights to get the resources online. This philosophy is also held by another posting:
This author not only denies that software download is the same piracy behavior as offline purchasing, and but also believes that software download is a good way to stop offline piracy because online download can significantly decrease the possibility of the consumers purchasing pirated software on the offline market. The distinction between online download and offline purchasing reflects the distinction between the online world and the offline world in users' perceptions. Many users tend to perceive the Internet as a public domain in which software programs are public goods. Their perceptions are based on non-profit purposes of online sharing.
The belief in the Internet as a public domain influences the users’ perception of software download. A number of users equate software download with access to the resources in the public domain. Thus, it is not necessary to pay for them. Meanwhile, another group of users, though admitting that software sharing is a kind of piracy behavior, refuse to equate it with traditional offline purchasing of pirated discs. They argue that software download is not a profit-oriented business transaction but an altruistic and unselfish behavior that benefits a wide range of software users.
Therefore, software users develop positive attitudes towards software download and individual piracy users on the Internet in contrast to negative attitudes towards purchasing pirated discs and underground piracy industry. These distinctions are based on both practical and conceptual concerns. First, software downloading lowers cost as a practical matter and improves accessibility in software use. Second, software downloading embedded with a non-profit orientation and altruistic/unselfish spirits conceptually empowers software users to conduct their sharing activities on the Internet. Both of these concerns are enabled by network technology.
In addition to changing piracy behaviors of software users, network technology has another impact on software companies. It is primarily exercised through network effect. According to Katz (2005), the network effect is a new phenomenon emerging with network technology and information economy. Castells (1996) points out three distinctive features of information economy enabled by network technology. The first is self-expansion, in which computers are the basis for constructing new computers, and the more powerful computers become, the more complex the technologies that can be built using them. The second is recombination that is about modularity/ability of the technology to combine all kinds of information into something new and meaningful. The third refers to distributional flexibility, which means information, once digitalized, can be processed anywhere, and can be easily shifted from one state of aggregation to anoth er. These features constitute a technological paradigm that integrates a variety of technologies and information into a system of relationships characterized by its synergies. The network effect is based on this paradigm to require a universal platform that is compatible with a variety of technologies and information productions. When more people choose the same platform, the platform becomes more valuable in facilitating self-expansion, re-combination and distributional flexibility. When more people choose the same platform, the platform becomes more universal and excludes other similar platforms. In terms of software copyright and piracy, the network effect is expressed in software companies' strategies to transform their products into the universal platform and exclude alternative platforms of their competitors. Internet software piracy plays an important role in these strategies.
The author uncovers how Microsoft makes strategic use of network effect to develop its operating system into a universal platform that is compatible with various technologies and software programs. The formation of a universal platform establishes Microsoft’s dominant position at the market, and, at the same time, defeats its competitors. The author’s observation supports Katz’s (2005) position that software piracy, if strategically manipulated, can become an effective tool of user discrimination. The users with high value, such as enterprise users, can pay more to get copyrighted software products. The users with low value, such as most individual users, can pay less to get pirated products. Accordingly, software companies’ copyright enforcement focuses on enterprise users while intentionally allowing individual users’ piracy activities to some extent. In this way, software companies are able to ma ximize both the size of software user base and the value of software network.
In this process, Internet piracy plays a very important role. First, Internet piracy facilitates widespread adoption of software companies’ products by lowering prices and improving accessibility. With a large user base, software companies are able to develop their product into a universal platform and take full advantage of the network effect. Second, the altruistic spirit of online sharing makes software users draw distinctions between offline purchasing and software download as well as between piracy producers and individual piracy users. Consequently, software users form negative attitudes towards offline purchasing and piracy producers in contrast to positive attitudes towards software download and individual piracy users. Users’ negative attitudes support software companies’ current emphasis in attacking the underground piracy industry and charging commercial enterprise users (Lu and Weber, 2008). On the other hand, users’ positive attitudes, to some extent, satisfy software companies’ current need to expand the user base of their products, which is realized through their intentional neglect over individual users’ online piracy behaviors. Finally, software companies, though refusing to admit, reluctantly accept the current situation in Internet software piracy. As Strangelove (2005) points out, highly intensified systems of corporate control will face substantial subversion, and the combination of resistance, deviance, competition, and conflicts within the corporate sector would bring the Internet into a stable state. In terms of Internet software piracy, the stable state refers to a kind of modified balance enabled by network technology, which redefines and moderates the dichotomy between the need to give the innovators incentives and the need to maintain public access to creative works.
In sum, network technology has three major impacts on software copyright and piracy: 1) to lower the prices of software products and improve accessibility; 2) to transform software piracy from a profit-oriented business activity to a seemingly non-profit social/relational activity; and 3) to make software companies adjust their strategies to take advantage of network effect. Network technology, therefore, functions to moderate the conflicting positions between software owners and software users. On the one hand, software owners' resistance to piracy is modified into strategic manipulation of pirated software through the network effect. Strategic manipulation is expressed in software companies' attacking the underground piracy industry while overlooking individual users' online piracy activities. On the other hand, software users' support of piracy is modified into the distinction between offline purchasing of pirated discs and online download. Compared to offline purcha sing, software downloading wins more support of software users because of its distinctive features of apparent non-profit status and free sharing. As a result of network technology' moderation, a degree of agreement is reached with individual software users' favor of software download and software companies' reluctance to punish individual piracy users on the Internet. It becomes a grace period in which individual users' online sharing can be allowed to some extent.
The impact of network technology on Chinese users’ perceptions about Internet software piracy reflects Wang's (2003) network/process-oriented approach that refuses to reduce non-human factors to the tools manipulated by human factors and emphasizes their independent contributions to the whole network. Network technology is found to interact with human/material factors (i.e., software companies and software users) so as to modify dichotomized positions between them. In this process, the moderation function of network technology is conceptually supported by another non-material factor, Chinese culture.
Chinese culture is often referred to by software users in their debate over software copyright and piracy. The analysis indicates that Chinese culture, particularly Confucianism, provides spiritual support to both positions promoting and opposing software piracy.
The existing literature concentrates on Chinese culture's conceptual support for local resistance to software copyright protection (see Wang et al., 2005; Alford, 1995; Yu, 2001; Montgomery and Keane, 2004; Lu, 2007). For example, Lu (2007) suggests that at the heart of the conflict over software piracy are the tensions between individualism and commercialism found in western understandings of copyright, and Confucianism and collectivism found within Chinese cultural responses to related issues of intellectual ownership. These tensions are found in one participant's passionate questions:
These questions reflect how Confucian values continue to influence Chinese thinking on intellectual property. One of the core tenets of Confucianism is to “teach without discrimination,” arguing that each person, no matter rich or poor, has the right to receive an education. Study is strongly encouraged and knowledge should be disseminated widely into society for the benefit of the majority. In this sense, software piracy serves to facilitate education development and knowledge dissemination. As one participant points out:
From the perspective of education, Confucianism advocates free sharing of knowledge and information among a wide range of social members. On the contrary, actions to prevent knowledge sharing are considered selfish and dishonorable in Confucian values. Swinyard et al. (1990) note that the Chinese proverb of “he that shares is to be rewarded; he that does not, condemned” can explain to some degree the impact of Confucianism on Chinese users’ responses to software copyright. One user ponders ethical dimensions of software piracy, drawing on traditional aspects of Confucianism to justify his position:
The author believes that the unselfish, collective efforts of Confucius and his disciples created Chinese ancient civilization, and ensured successful transmission and preservation of traditional values across generations. In users’ online discussion, Confucian thinking is adopted as a form of cultural resistance to western values of individualism and commercialism embedded with the concept of copyright as commodity. Confucianism tends to view intellectual objects as public goods, which should be shared by the whole society and benefit all the social members.
Free sharing of knowledge indicates Chinese culture’s emphasis on human relations. Zhang (1989) suggests that Chinese culture advocates harmonious relations between man and man, and between man and nature. In ancient China, education serves as a tool to diminish economic and intellectual divides between ruling and ruled classes as well as to maintain social harmony (Zhang, 1989). However, Chinese culture’s emphasis on harmonious human relations does not necessarily reject individuals' claim of rights over their private properties. Instead, Chinese culture also protects individuals' private property rights as a return for their painful strenuous work. One user quotes an ancient Chinese poem to express his respect for individuals' hardworking and his regret for infringing intellectual property rights:
Chinese culture’s respect for private property rights provides moral grounds to defend software copyright and resist piracy. Confucian philosophy is often quoted to criticize software copyright infringement that is often equated with stealing. For example:
"Chase people do not drink stolen water and honest people do not eat begged food" is a famous saying taken from classic Confucian works. It emphasizes individual virtues and advocates sacrificing material interests to achieve moral obligations. Virtuous people would rather die than drink stolen water or eat begged food.
The postings above indicate Chinese culture's contribution to software copyright protection. This finding is against the traditional view of Chinese culture that resists software copyright and encourages piracy. Instead, Chinese culture is found to play a dual role in software copyright and piracy. On one hand, Chinese culture builds up public awareness of software copyright and persuades users to abide by copyright laws and regulations. On the other hand, Chinese culture restricts extensive corporate control under the name of software copyright and encourages software companies to sacrifice parts of their private interests for the benefits of the whole society.
Therefore, Chinese culture, like network technology, functions to moderate the tensions between software companies and software users. First, its duality prevents software users from falling down in either direction of supporting or opposing piracy. Second, Chinese culture’s emphasis on social harmony calls for a balanced, integrated account between the conflicting interests of software owners and software users. Chinese culture’s dual role offers conceptual support to the moderation function of network technology. For example, Chinese culture’s support of unselfish free sharing of knowledge legitimates software sharing on the Internet while its advocacy of owner/user’s harmony prohibits software companies from extensive copyright enforcement on the Internet. In addition, Confucianism’s recognition of software owners’ rights over their products spiritually resists profit-oriented offline purchasing of pirated discs and piracy behavio rs of enterprise users with commercial purpose.
The findings above suggest that the tension between software owners and software users is moderated by network technology and Chinese culture. As the globalization process intensifies, the tension between software users and software owners develops into the tension between foreign developed countries and China, in which network technology and Chinese culture continue their moderation function through interaction with another non-material factor, patriotism. Patriotism emerges with online users' discussion about Chinese development. In order to maximize the benefits and offset the drawbacks in globalization, China is required to balance the tension between globalization and localization (see Weber, 2003). Downs and Saunders (1999) point out that Chinese patriotism is rising as an important tool to deal with the global/local tension (also see: Townsend, 1992). Yu (20 01) notes that patriotism facilitates the Chinese government’s adoption of a self-strengthening worldview in its policies about the development of science and technology, all of which emphasize autonomous innovation as the core principle of science and technology development. Meanwhile, the worldview of self-strengthening in some sense helps justify the unauthorized reproduction of foreign works, which is regarded as a way of strengthening the country and catching up with foreign developed countries. Therefore, pirated software is sometimes viewed as “patriotic software,” which is supposed to speed up the nation's information modernization at little or no cost (Yu, 2001).
Patriotism is found in software users’ comments on China’s economic and social development. The following arguments are often seen on the discussion board:
The postings reveal two contributions of software piracy to economic development in China. First, software piracy promotes the development of industrial sectors relating to software products, such as computer hardware, data storage, and network services. Software piracy provides tools and platforms on which these industrial sectors are based. Second, software piracy trains a large number of IT professionals that are valuable human resources for China's economic development. Meanwhile, software piracy also makes two contributions to social development in China. First, software piracy improves the country's overall level of science and technology, and advances China into a higher stage of development. Second, software piracy enables millions of children in low-income families to have access to computers and improve the people's computer literacy.
Patriotism not only allows Chinese people to use software piracy but also advises them to protect local software companies in competition with foreign companies. It is reflected in users' discriminative attitude towards local and foreign software companies.
With limited competence in technology and finance, local software companies possess a disadvantageous position in competition with foreign companies. From a patriotic perspective, some users advocate making a distinction between local and foreign products, instead of non-discriminatively pirating all software products. Therefore, a discriminative position towards foreign and local companies is raised in order to protect domestic software industry by pirating foreign products.
As the postings above show, patriotism serves as an effective tool for some software users to deal with global/local tensions in the issues of software copyright and piracy. They connect piracy use with patriotism by talking about its contributions to China's development, and calling for a discriminative position towards foreign and local software companies. They believe that software piracy can help China catch up with foreign developed countries in a short time with little or no cost.
From the same patriotic perspective, another group of software users, however, deny software piracy's contributions to China's development. Instead, they emphasize negative effects of software piracy over the country's long-term development.
In response to the discriminative attitude towards local and foreign software companies, some patriotic users refuse to use piracy to protect local industries and national interests. They, instead, recognize that piracy can help foreign companies expand their market share in China, and shrink the development space of local software companies.
Being aware of foreign companies' use of software piracy to defeat local competitors, the author believes that Chinese domestic software companies could benefit from software copyright enforcement because local companies' lower prices would make their products more competitive at market. On the contrary, piracy is allowed to some degree by foreign software companies in order to maximally exploit network effect that make their products more valuable and more profitable (Katz, 2005). In this situation, those patriotic users would like to support software copyright enforcement.
In sum, patriotism is found to play a dual role in China's development. In the short term, software piracy can accelerate economic and social development, and enable China to catch up with foreign developed countries at a fast speed with little price. In the short term, a discriminative position about local and foreign products can benefit local software industry and undermine foreign companies' domination of the Chinese market. The short-term concern is to support software piracy. However, for a long term, software piracy can decrease the competitiveness of local software industry and damage China's overall innovation capability. In the long term, software piracy is manipulated by foreign software companies to defeat their local competitors. The long-term concern is to resist software piracy.
The short-term/long-term concerns prevent patriotic users from complete inclination on either side, and require them to find a balanced way to integrate short-term/long-term concerns. In order to address these concerns, Chinese software users adopt the position of "socialist market economy" promoted by the Chinese government as the guiding philosophy in the country's economic development. According to the Communist Party Central Committee (CPCC, 2006), there exist two basic considerations under the socialist market economy. First, socialist market economy aims to establish an economic system operationally controlled, regulated, and directed by the market, to which order in the production and distribution of resources and goods is entrusted. Second, the state’s macro-regulation of the market is emphasized in order to correct the deficiencies of the free market alone, protect public interests and the interests of a wide range of social members, and to con struct a harmonious society. In the structure of socialist market economy, the centrality position is given to market economy while the state's macro-regulation plays a secondary role.
Chinese software users adopt socialist market economy to deal with short-term/long-term concerns of China's development in the issues of software copyright and piracy. In order to address unbalanced power distribution between software companies and software users, Chinese users ask the government to play a more active role under the existing structure of market economy. For example:
The authors ask the government to develop different policies towards education users, individual users, and enterprise users. The state's macro-regulation should be used to help education users and individual users obtain access to software products while tightening copyright enforcement over enterprise users. In addition, some users urge the government to take administrative actions to lower copyright products' prices and develop domestic software industry. For example:
In order to address the conflict between long-term and short-term goals in China's development, patriotic software users, under the guidance of socialist market economy, ask the government to be more flexible and develop discriminative policies towards different software users and software owners. Under the structure of socialist market economy, the centrality of market economy requires the government to give priority to software copyright protection to achieve the long-term goal of the country's development. On the basis of software copyright enforcement, the state's macro-regulation is applied to make distinctions among software users and software owners in order to achieve the short-term goal.
The model of socialist market economy is used to moderate short-term/long-term conflicts relating to patriotism. This moderation process is facilitated by network technology and Chinese culture. First, network technology supports the patriotic use of software piracy, because software download lowers the cost of piracy use and accelerates dissemination of pirated software products. Patriotic users believe that wide adoption of Internet piracy would help China win out in the competition with foreign developed countries. Second, big software companies capitalize on the network effect to defeat their local competitors and monopolize Chinese market. Patriotic users, therefore, see software copyright enforcement as a method to protect local software companies. In this way, network technology serves to support both long-term and short-term concerns in patriotism.
Meanwhile, Chinese culture provides conceptual support for software users’ adoption of socialist market economy. First, Chinese culture’s respect of software copyright legitimates the central position of software copyright protection in socialist market economy. Second, Chinese culture’s emphasis on education and free sharing of knowledge allows the state’s macro-regulation to counteract extensive corporate control and protect public interests. Of more importance, Chinese culture advocates harmony between software owners and software users as well as between foreign developed countries and China. Chinese culture sees long-term and short-term patriotic concerns are not in conflict but in harmony. Long/short-term concerns cross-check each other to avoid going too far on either side, and constitute an integrated cultural approach to the issues of software copyright and piracy.
On a conceptual level, Chinese culture’s integration of long/short-term patriotic concerns enhances the viability of socialist market economy. On a practical level, Internet software piracy, which is supported by Chinese culture, emerges as a way to enforce the model of socialist market economy. On one hand, Internet software piracy recognizes the centrality of software copyright protection under the structure of market economy. For example, Internet software piracy retreats from the offline market and transforms itself from a profit-oriented business transaction into a non-profit social/relational activity. In addition, Internet software piracy promotes software users to develop negative attitudes towards piracy producers and offline purchasing of pirated discs. On the other hand, Internet software piracy helps the state’s macro-regulation in resisting extensive corporate control and enabling education and individual users to have free access to soft ware products.
This study uncovers the impacts of non-human and non-material factors related to Chinese users’ perceptions about Internet software piracy, including network technology, Chinese culture, and patriotism (see Figure 1). All these factors are found to play dual roles in formation of software users’ perceptions, and moderate the existing confrontations between material/human factors, such as software owners/users and foreign developed countries/China. Of more importance, network technology, Chinese culture, and patriotism support one another in the moderation process and constitute an integrated approach centering on adoption of Internet software piracy to deal with combined impacts of various human/non-human and material/non-material factors.
The findings indicate the strength of actor-network theory in breaking down the walls between a series of conceptual dichotomies (i.e., nature versus society, human versus non-human, and technology-determinism versus social-shaping) and integrating all of them into its central concept of hybrids (see Frohmann, 2006). The network/process-oriented approach complicates the political-economic tensions underlying the issues of software copyright and piracy. A certain degree of alignment between these tensions is realized through the moderation of network technology, Chinese culture and patriotism. Chinese software users are enabled by the model of translation in actor-network theory to develop an integrated approach surrounding the issue of Internet software piracy. Law (1992) suggests that the mechanism of translation enables the actors to mobilize and juxtapose the factors on the web to prevent them from following their o wn inclinations, and, instead, come to more general and unified demands with one and the same solution. In this study, the web consists of two dimensions: global/local and macro-micro. The factors on the global level include software companies and foreign developed countries while the factors on the local level include software users and China. Meanwhile, the factors on the macro level include human factors (i.e., software companies, foreign developed countries, and China) and non-human factors (i.e., patriotism, Chinese culture, and technology) while the factor on the micro level refers to individual software users.
The power of the model of translation lies in software users’ agency to link the global level with the local level as well as the macro level with the micro level (see: Law and Callon, 1992; Wang, 2003; Wang and Zhu, 2003). In this study, Chinese users are able to innovatively utilize global and local resources input on the macro level by software companies, foreign developed countries, network technology, Chinese culture, and patriotism, which, with diverse interests and goals, exercise power through a variety of channels, such as education, mass media, laws, regulations, and market. On the micro level of software users’ perceptions, individual agency makes these powers and resources deviate from their original expectations, and better serve the interests and stances of individual users. However, individual users are not given complete autonomy in manipulating global and l ocal resources. The macro-level authorities are still able to retain their influence on the micro level and achieve their expectations to some extent. The complicated interactions between individual agency and macro-level factors result in a series of distinctions software users make to moderate existing tensions in the issues of software copyright and piracy. As Law and Callon (1992) point out, translation between global and local levels as well as between macro and micro levels offers a negotiation space for individuals to transform global and local resources and generate a return to global and local actors, and for global and local actors to exercise controls over individuals. The result of negotiation is the adoption of Internet software piracy, which reflects a flexible, discriminative position to seek a balanced account between software users/China and software owners/foreign developed countries. The flexible, discriminative position i s composed by a series of distinctions software users make, including the distinctions between offline piracy purchasing and Internet piracy, between enterprise users and individual users, and between foreign and local software companies.
In this study, the network/process-oriented approach is adopted to explore the directions, forces, and connections of a variety of factors on the network of software copyright and piracy in China. Through the mechanism of translation, network technology, Chinese culture and patriotism enable software users to establish some degree of commonality between competing directions and targets of global and local factors, and develop one and the same creative solution that is Internet software piracy. Therefore, Wang and Zhu’s (2003) expectation is realized by the fact that the analysis of actor-network theory adds the middle part and linkage to a dichotomized attention to the macro/global/production and the micro/local/reception aspects in the issues of software copyright and piracy.
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2 All the quotations of Chinese software users are extracted from their online postings and translated by the author from Chinese to English.
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