In China, plagiarization is an established business model

In China, plagiarization is an established business model

Summary: Copying business ideas from both foreign and domestic firms has been standard operating procedure for Chinese Internet companies. But these borrowing practices could be losing their momentum.

TOPICS: Browser, China

It has been a common phenomenon for Chinese Internet companies to copy original ideas born abroad.

Tencent's QQ instant messaging is based on Israel's ICQ. Baidu's search engine is a copy of Google's. Online retailer Alibaba mimics Amazon, while online video portal Youku was once known as China's YouTube, and Sina Weibo has been called China's Twitter. This phenomenon is referred to as C2C; namely, "COPY TO China".

But these  companies not only copy ideas originated by foreign counterparts; they at times borrow ideas from domestic firms. China's most utilized Internet services portal, Tencent, has the most charges to answer in this regard. Tencent is China's biggest Internet company by market value. This is attributed mainly to its chat tool QQ (a MSN messenger-like instant messaging software). As of December 31, 2011, Tencent QQ boasts 721 million  active accounts, and its peak simultaneous online user accounts has reached 152.7 million.

Though seldom being the first to enter the Internet market, Tencent often catches up from behind and even surpasses its front-runners by taking advantage of its huge Internet user base (the largest in China) and original ideas by industry pioneers. Backed by a huge market share, it succeeds in promoting new products by bundling them into its dominant QQ instant-messaging tool.

But very recently, an outcry against Tencent has been echoing in the China's Internet industry.

On April 12, one of China's four major portals--also the proxy operator of Blizzard Entertainment's popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft--NetEase Inc. said its key mobile news app was flagrantly plagiarized by Tencent in the latter's iPhone news app Version 2.0.

In a statement published on its website, NetEase said Tencent's version of the news app directly copied its design ideas in overall layout, photo viewing and commenting.

Indeed, screen grabs of the iPhone news app of NetEase and Tencent look very much the same.

But Netease also seems to have something to clarify. Four days after it slammed Tencent, China's  most popular Yelp-like local merchant recommendation platform Da Zhong Dian Pin accused Netease's mobile client named "Fan Fan" of plagiarizing huge amounts of contents from it and urged Netease to take "Fan Fan" off shelves, or it will take legal action.

A succession of finger-pointing has evoked public reflections.

On April 15, speaking at the opening ceremony of China's 14th National People's Congress Antimonopoly Law Forum, Zhou Hongyi, Chairman of NASDAQ listed company Qihoo 360 Technology Co., Ltd., said the copying-and-bundling model adopted by some big companies has a far-reaching negative impact on China's Internet industry.

"Several firms have emerged as the leading Internet companies in China, but monopoly, especially copying and bundling, has robbed many other Internet companies of opportunities for innovation, and even the incentives to innovate, " said Zhou. Zhou's Qihoo 360 is in direct competition with Tencent in terms of Internet security products.

Previously, China's Internet companies generally gave tacit approval to plagiarizing. Yet as the awareness of intellectual property rights grows and the number of companies with original designs increases, copying could gradually lose its momentum. When Tencent launched its open platform last year, CEO Ma Huateng in a high-profile announcement said "(Tencent) will not act as an umpire and an athlete at the same time, " suggesting Tencent will play fair with its partners.

Hong Bo, a senior analyst of China's Internet,  also noted, "At the early stage of Internet, many domestic Internet companies, probably due to their lack of knowledge in this field, could start their business by learning from their American counterparts. Now that China has become the world's biggest Internet market, under such circumstances, China's Internet companies should have more innovative pursuits. You have to make things of your own, things different from others. "

Topics: Browser, China

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  • China an equal opportunity thief ... 'we like ... we take ..'

  • This is new news?

    chuckle - I've know this since my initial visit to Hong Kong and Kowloon back in the early 80's ..... :D
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  • This is news?

    I thought this was common knowledge for years. I'm sure the practice will continue unabated, with the possible exception of Chinese copying other Chinese. But the rest of the world better do what they can to protect their intellectual property.

    [edit] ...Dang. I see Rhonin beat me to the punch.
    • The news is: They're realizing it sucks to be stolen FROM

      My takeaway from this was not the old news that many Chinese government officials and companies have little regard for intellectual property rights. What is interesting is that now that Chinese companies have started "borrowing" among themselves, the companies are starting to realize, "Hey! You just stole our work! This sucks!"

      While I won't hold my breath waiting for thieves to learn that stealing is bad by being stolen from, it may help to change some minds in the long term.

      Now that they have [b]victims[/b] of IP theft, and not just perpetrators, maybe the government will be kicked into enforcing IP rights. (No telling if they'll be inspired to care about international cases. Again, I'm not going to hold my breath.)
  • E ... E ... E

    "[i]Backed by a huge market share, it succeeds in promoting new products [/i][copied from innovators ...][i] by bundling them into its dominant QQ instant-messaging tool.[/i]"

    "Embrace ... extend ... eliminate"

    Hmm, ... now where have I heard that before? ...
    • Yup

      Redmond, fire up your photocopiers!!! LOL
  • Blame the great firewall . . .

    "In China, plagiarization is an established business model"

    You can probably blame the great firewall of China for most of this, to be honest. It's often difficult for even the largest non-Chinese businesses to get past the firewall, not to mention all of the censorship issues even if you get in. So yeah there are a lot of duplicates of some of our largest services over there.

    And yeah, as the others have mentioned, this isn't really news . . .
  • And the limited to 0 coverage of the 99%ers is not a kind of censorship?

    The US is just as bad in a lot of areas!
    • Actually

  • plagiarism

    It has been general knowledge, for years, that IP theft is rampant in China. I'm told that one MS official suggested that they could buy Windows from China and repackage it for sale here, cheaper than they could produce themselves. This is really old news.

    One thing that I take away from this; however, is that you people don't know that "plagiarization" is not a word. The word is "plagiarism." Nobody bothered to point this out.