Economy

A tale of two cities

Local governments at loggerheads over criminal status of games distributor

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The 600-km escape route to safety

In 2017 BBC correspondent John Sudworth carried out an experiment with the local police in Guiyang and found that they took just seven minutes to identify him, locate him and then pick him up as he strolled the city’s streets.

Supported by 200 million CCTV cameras powered by facial recognition technology, China’s surveillance system is vast. But an online games distributor, who has been accused of copyright infringement, succeeded in eluding it while under police detention in May.

Li Weiwei managed to escape from a guarded hotel room in Yichun in Jiangxi province on May 23. In the dead of night, the 31 year-old pretended to have to answer the call of nature. Once he stepped out of his room, he overcame police officers and took off through the fire escape. Breaking free of more security in the hotel lobby, he left the building and found a taxi to drop him off in the neighbouring city of Pingxiang. From there he took another taxi to Changsha in Hunan province, and then another one to Yueyang where his employees escorted him back to Jingmen in Hubei that morning.

The escape route covered a distance of over 600 kilometres.

Li felt safe in Hubei, his home province. And while the Yichun public security bureau offered a bounty of Rmb50,000 ($7,071) for his capture, the Jingmen government said that there was no evidence to suggest Li had committed any offence. It therefore imposed no restriction on his personal freedom and even authorised local media outlets to interview him.

The wrangle can be traced back to April, when Jiangxi Legend Chuangmeng Technology announced that it had secured the exclusive Chinese rights to Legend of Mir 2, an online role-playing game, from one of its developers Actoz Soft, a Seoul-based company. A year ago Li’s Shenzhen Jinfeng Xingjie Technology acquired similar rights, but from WeMade, also a South Korean company.

Both Actoz Soft and WeMade have been recognised by the Chinese courts as the developers of Legend of Mir 2 since 2001. But which of the two owns the distribution rights in China has always been a point of contention. WeMade’s granting of such rights to various local companies in 2019 led to a ruling by a court in Yichun that identified Actoz Soft as the only lawful distributor. That, in effect, overturned similar rights, including those earlier agreed between WeMade and Li.

The Jingmen government, however, defended Li by affirming the legality of the contract between Jinfeng Xingjie and WeMade: “The nature of the dispute between Jinfeng Xingjie and Legend Chuangmeng is purely commercial. It has nothing to do with the criminal act of copyright infringement.”

The Jingmen government also criticised the Yichun police, noting that their arrest of Li had violated rules promulgated by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate in 2018 to ensure entrepreneurs running privately-owned businesses would not be targeted arbitrarily.

In an interview with Shangyou News, Li revealed that his escape was driven by two factors.

First, the city leaders of Jingmen had made a trip to Yichun in an attempt to bail him out but to no avail.

Second, he had to renew a Rmb50 million contract with WeMade before May 26 or his business would be at risk. Had his firm failed it would have led to 500 job losses, he claimed. In addition Li’s various companies plan to invest Rmb1 billion in Jingmen this year to build an industrial park focusing on online video gaming. Its establishment, buttressed by strong government support, is designed to help the city diversify its economy away from a reliance on chemical production.

Li told Shangyou News that Yichun had previously invited him to collaborate in a similar industrial park initiative. Under the auspices of Actoz Soft’s parent firm, the park had already attracted 108 games companies.

But Li rejected the offer. “They asked me to move my companies over and have them incorporated in the park. That means all income [generated by his companies] will fall into the hands of the park,” he explained.

Legend of Mir 2 has raked in Rmb60 billion in revenue since its launch in China, according to Jiangxi News. Li’s companies command 50% of the game’s sales in the personal computer segment.

The media has frowned on the legal battle between the two cities. “China is a unified country, the rule of law [in different regions] should also be made consistent. [The same person] in Jiangxi is a fugitive, but in Hubei’s Jingmen he is a valued guest of the government – such a disparity seriously undermines China’s judicial credibility,” an op-ed in ThePaper.cn, a national news outlet, commented. 


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