19 March 2019
Disney is among the foreign studios struggling to combat knockoff merchandise in China. Photo: Bloomberg
Disney is among the foreign studios struggling to combat knockoff merchandise in China. Photo: Bloomberg

Movie-related products strike gold but copycats get a cut too

Many parents in the US were frantic in recent weeks trying to find a sparkly 30-inch-long light-blue dress for their daughters, hoping to recreate the magic of Princess Elsa — the popular character in Walt Disney Company’s animation smash hit Frozen.

Touted as the most sought-after fashion item among children, originals of the dress were fetching as much as US$1,600 on EBay while replicas were being snapped up for up to US$225 on craft sites, according to a Bloomberg report.

Now, let us look at China.

The moms there didn’t have to lose any sleep over the dress, even though demand from their children was just as strong as in the US – Frozen grossed over 300 million yuan (US$48.38 million) in China since its mainland premiere in February and countless young daughters in the country have been obsessed with the Snow Queen’s costume.

So, what proved to be the savior for Chinese moms? The answer: Taobao online mall.

An ice gown outfit similar to the one worn by Princess Elsa sells for around 350 yuan (US$56.4) at the Chinese online marketplace, satiating the craze of the mainlanders. Both the children and their parents do not have any problem with the knockoff as the design and texture of the product are so close to the original that people can hardly tell the difference. One Taobao vendor alone is said to have sold as many as 212 gowns within the past 30 days.

With the money saved, the consumers are happy with Taobao; intellectual property infringement is not something they are bothered about.

Despite repeated verbal assurances by Taobao’s parent Alibaba on intellectual property protection, Taobao remains the top destination for Chinese e-shoppers when they want to get some cheap knockoffs, counterfeit or pirated items from the cyber world.

Disney currently does not operate any stores in mainland China although it announced in 2012 that it will begin selling in the country merchandise such as toys, dolls and clothes from its popular movies. There have been numerous individually-run ‘Disney stores’ on the mainland, but most of the goods peddled there are fake ones.

Media reports have said that the California-based entertainment conglomerate, which is also the world’s largest licensing company, is now planning to open a 5,000-square meter flagship store in Shanghai’s bustling Lujiazui financial district early next year.

Analysts point out that since most of Disney’s popular items are manufactured in China, lower logistics costs can help the firm offer better prices for mainland customers.

But before applying its much vaunted “movies plus merchandising” business model to tap new income streams in the country, Disney will have to steer a careful course with government watchdogs and e-commerce platforms like Taobao to combat rampant piracy and intellectual property infringements.

Chinese homegrown filmmakers and studios also fall victim to copycatting.

After the animated television series Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf took the country by storm, there has been a wave of numerous related products ranging from toys, home textiles to cosmetics. But more than 80 percent of those products are not licensed by the copyright owner Guangdong Creative Power Entertaining Co., Shenzhen Economic Daily cited a company official as saying.

– Contact the writer at f[email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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