China's domestic film industry is the biggest victim of movie piracy in that country, a senior MPA (Motion Picture Association) representative said today in Beijing.

China is "the worst piracy problem we have in Asia. Unquestionably," said Michael Ellis, senior vice-president and regional director for the Asia Pacific region at the MPA, at a briefing with reporters.

The nation's piracy rate for film and video products stands at 93 percent, Ellis said. That is, of all such products being purchased by Chinese consumers, only 7 percent are legitimate. The Chinese government disputes that figure, but Ellis said he has never received an official government estimate. "I still wait for any government official to tell me what the piracy rate is in China," he said.

Chinese films have come into their own over the last decade, with films such as 2002's 'Hero' ('Ying Xiong'), 2003's 'Mountain Patrol' ('Kekexili'), and 2004's 'House of Flying Daggers' ('Shi Mian Mai Fu') garnering critical and commercial acclaim at home and internationally.

The biggest difficulty MPA members face in battling piracy in China is market access, Ellis said. Under the terms of its entrance to the World Trade Organization, China agreed to allow 20 foreign films per year into theatrical release, with a maximum of 14 from the US. Chinese consumers often have no choice but to purchase pirated products in order to see certain titles, especially dubbed in Mandarin or subtitled in Chinese. For example, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' was banned in China due to its supernatural themes, a no-no in the eyes of China's film censors.

US television programmes such as 'Sex and the City' and 'Friends' have become huge hits in China, all via sale as pirated discs. The former was never released or broadcast in China, and the latter aired only years after the show had started its run.

Pirated DVDs in China sell for approximately £50p each. Legitimate 'introductory price' DVDs, offered by some companies to create a low-priced, authentic alternative to pirated discs, come with basic packaging and no special features, and sell for the equivalent of £1.

Ellis lauded Chinese law enforcement efforts. "There is good rule of law here," he said, but hoped that Chinese officials would do more on market access to allow MPA members to compete against pirates.

The Motion Picture Association is the international arm of the Motion Picture Association of America, the American film industry's lobbying group. It is comprised of Hollywood's largest film studios: Buena Vista, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal.

Read a pdf of the MPA's research here.