Software Copyright and Piracy in China




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study is to explore how Chinese software users perceive the issues of software copyright and piracy. Tianya Community, the largest online public forum in China, was selected as a site to study users' online communication about software copyright and piracy. Data were collected over five discussion boards in which software copyright and piracy were discussed extensively to retrieve 561 posting threads with 6,150 messages ranging from March 1, 1999 to June 30, 2007. Lindlof and Taylor's (2002) qualitative communication research methods were used to locate and analyze the recurring dominant themes within the online discussion by Chinese Internet users. The study revealed two opposing discourses existing in software users? perceptions, which represent globalization and anti-globalization processes surrounding software copyright and piracy. Mittleman and Chin's (2005) theoretical framework was adopted to interpret material and spiritual tensions between human/material factors, such as software owners, software users, China, and foreign developed countries. Meanwhile, the actor-network theory was applied to map out the roles of non-human/non-material factors, such as new technology, patriotism, and Chinese culture, which function to moderate the existing confrontations between globalization and anti-globalization by preventing software users from totally falling down into either direction of supporting or opposing software piracy. As a result, both forces of conformity and resistance were found to coexist within software users' perceptions and fragment their identities. To deal with fragmented identities, Chinese software users generally adopted a flexible, discriminative position composed by a series of distinctions, between offline purchasing of pirated discs and software download, between enterprise users and individual users, between foreign and local software companies, between freeware/open-source software and copyright/pirated software, between software companies and independent software developers, and between conceptual recognition and behavioral practice. Meanwhile, traditional resistance movements of Polanyi's (1957) counter-movements and Gramsci's (1971) counter-hegemony were reduced from collective contestations with openly declared call for resistance to Scott's (1990) notion of infra-politics that was communicated among software users and expressed in their everyday practice of piracy use but not in public and government discourse.