Many, complex factors contribute to IP infringement. But in some of the more – how shall we put it? – enthusiastic cases, surely a key impulse is that it seems like a good idea at the time. That phrase is likely to have spurred plans hatched by a clique of shopkeepers in the Chinese city of Kunming, an up-and-coming urban centre that is carving out a name for itself in the rapid-industrial-development league.
As a consequence of its flourishing status, Kunming has begun to attract increasing attention from Western visitors. And some of those visitors have been well placed to make some interesting observations. This is doubly true of the blogger BirdAbroad – a Kunming-based, but US-born, health worker. In an entry posted on 20 July, BirdAbroad reported some thoughts from a trip to a local Apple Store.
Well, that’s what she thought it was, anyway.
Wrong place, right lines
‘I went inside and poked around,’ she wrote. ‘They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple Store. It had the classic Apple Store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple nametags around their necks. You have already guessed the punchline, of course: this was a total Apple Store ripoff.’
With blistering speed, BirdAbroad’s posting was re-reported by 1,000 different internet news outlets, and the photos she had taken of the store’s interior were all over the public domain like a blight. Shaken to the core, Apple focused the full force of its cease-and-desist department on the exposed store, and, in the process, found two others in Kunming that were getting up to exactly the same thing.
Of the three stores, two were shut down, and one agreed to obtain a reseller licence: the IP equivalent of a criminal turning state’s witness and working with the good guys. While it transpired in the shakedown that the Apple devices on sale at the stores were real, BirdAbroad’s detective work had unmasked a subtler, but arguably more audacious, scheme.
So, let’s just run through that again: the goods were genuine – but the environment was a counterfeit.
Chang Puyun, a business bureau spokesman for the Kunming government, poured scorn on what he considered to be a misapprehension spawned by the explosion of internet coverage. ‘Some overseas media have made it appear the stores sold fake Apple products,’ he told Reuters. ‘China has taken great steps to enforce IP Rights and the stores weren’t selling fake products.’ Indeed. They had merely broken a host of passing-off laws by ushering customers into detailed simulacra designed to evoke an authentic Apple atmosphere.
But if you thought that was extravagant, you clearly haven’t heard of World Joyland.
Caught in a Blizzard
Basking on a 1,200 sq km site in Taihu Bay (well, most of it – it’s not quite finished yet), dominating 7.8km of lakeshore and nestled between the proud cities of Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou, World Joyland doesn’t seem like the sort of place that’s trying to be in any way discrete.
No expense has been spared in its construction – or, for that matter, its promotion. A decidedly over-the-top preview video that made its way on to YouTube is worth a few moments’ consideration all by itself. As well as treating the whole online community to a series of schematics revealing bold plans to reconstruct vistas from Western videogames on an entirely unlicensed basis, it is interspersed with pulse-pounding promo footage from other attractions around the world – including the T2 3D: Battle Through Time experience that James Cameron made for Universal Studios, and the same resort’s Marvel Comics showcase. The video is also interspersed with tantalising excerpts from Hollywood blockbusters, such as Terminator 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and at least one Chronicles of Narnia film. All of these second-hand clips are hurled into the mix with such haphazard glee as to suggest that permission was never even sought – let alone granted.
Then there’s World Joyland itself – or, as it was prosaically dubbed during its development, ‘Jiangsu Digital Culture Industry Promotion Base’. In terms of meeting the objectives of its original codename, World Joyland does, to coin a tagline, exactly what it says on the tin. The centrepiece – a precinct that, at planning stage, had the catchy title Experience Park of Realised Online Digital Entertainment Contents – is based around two key attractions: Universe of StarCraft, based upon the StarCraft science fiction game devised by US outfit Blizzard; and Terrain of Warcraft, which puts the visitor four-square in locations from the same company’s online role-playing game, World of Warcraft.
Statues of giants, robots – and giant robots – lurk on the precinct’s streets. An inn designed to resemble a tavern from one of World of Warcraft’s more relaxed scenarios welcomes visitors in for refreshment. Massive builds recreate elaborate views, such as a Tolkienesque scene of twin gods carved into a mountainside with a river flowing between them. Official logos from both games are on huge banners all over the place. An awful lot of thought has gone into it – and absolutely no Blizzard approval whatsoever. By any standards, World Joyland is a volcano of infringement, visible for miles around, and – as of mid-July – a fully functional, moneymaking entity.
So far, Blizzard has remained tight-lipped on its impression of the project – and one can only wonder at how it would tackle the site in the event it loses patience. But World Joyland and the fake Apple stores do raise some interesting notions about China’s confidence on the world stage. While the country has experienced a swift economic surge, it has yet to create brands as instantly recognisable in their respective industries as Apple’s or Blizzard’s. On a cultural level, do its fake places embody a wildly inappropriate form of brand worship?