Friday, April 30, 2010

I (look like) Gumby, dammit!

The Shanghai Expo opens this weekend, and China's second city has pulled out all the stops -- the city has spent more than twice as much on its coming-out party than Beijing did on the Olympics.

But as with so many things China does, this event is not without controversy. It turns out the Expo's cartoon mascot, Haibao, looks an awful lot like Gumby, and organizers of the event have been accused of plagiarism.

Haibao creator Wu Yongjian pleads innocence and says he's never seen The Gumby Show before. Haibao, which means “treasure of the seas”, is based on the Expo emblem shape (δΈ–), the character for “world,” and was picked from 26,655 submissions, according to Chinese celebrity news site May Daily.

I happen to believe Mr Wu when he says he had no intention of riping off Gumby. But the similarity is amusing all the same.

It's not like China doesn't have a reputation for intellectual property theft. As the New York Times recently reported, Shanghai's bootleg DVD shops, a Chinese staple, have gone temporarily underground (or at least behind false walls) while the world's eye is trained on the city. This is exactly what happened in Beijing in 2008, as I wrote here. And just like in Beijing, once the Expo hoopla dies down, the shops will sprout right back up and the vast market of knock-off goods will kick back into gear.

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