Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Conan Copies the Chinese Copier

I have previously commented on various examples of potential copyright or trademark problems in China -- whether mobile phones, Apple Stores, computers, or ice cream. However, these are certainly not the only cases. One question many foreign companies ask is "What can we do about it?"

American talk show host Conan O'Brien has taken his own path to answering that question after he discovered a show produced by Sohu in China had copied his own show's opening sequence. I do not know whether any legal action has been taken or is even possible, but O'Brien may have done something even more effective: he publicly mocked Sohu's show. And just as important, the key excerpt has been posted and is currently available on Sohu's video sharing service in China:

[Update: If video is not appearing you can find it on Sohu here]

While I and several of my Chinese friends find the excerpt humorous, I think there is a deeper point to be made. Fan Huang on the Shanghaiist commented on the potential impact:
The internet now makes former boundaries porous to an incredible extent yadda yadda, and we feel like the current moment is when a previously solid cultural bubble separating China and the rest of the world has been pierced...

We hope incidents like the Conan smackdown contribute to a new notion in China that wantonly appropriating other people's names/designs/tv show opening sequences is no longer okay, because the specter of losing face is now possible on a global scale.
Face is indeed an important concept in China and understanding it can help companies better address a variety of issues. Conan's aim may have been more about producing fresh humor than causing Sina's show to change its opening sequence, but I believe this illustrates how best responding to copying in China can be aided by a better understanding of Chinese culture and some more creativity.


  1. As Tony Kornheiser once said, "While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, mockery is the sincerest form of mockery."

  2. That's just beautiful. Well played.