With the website blocked in mainland China for over a year and a half, except for a brief interlude last year, it turns out that Wikipedia content is making its way into the country in other surprising forms. Andrew Lih reported seeing suspiciously familiar text gracing the packaging for DVDs of American television shows in Beijing.
In a blog entry posted Wednesday, Lih told how he had been browsing the selections of a Chinese DVD store, whose back-cover descriptions (in English) are notoriously poorly-written or belong to the wrong film entirely. He said one DVD, the box set for a season of Family Guy, caught his eye for its uncharacteristically fluent English. Sensing something familiar, Lih, who is working on a book about Wikipedia due out later this year, noticed some clues that prompted him to check the Wikipedia article for the show.
To verify his suspicions, Lih bought the box set even though he said he was "not terribly fond of the show." As it turns out, the text was in fact copied directly from the introductory paragraph of the Wikipedia article. Although the current version has changed somewhat since then, Lih was able to find a revision from 1 December 2006 that matched, posting the two excerpts for comparison on his blog.
Given the innocuous nature of the content, "importing" Wikipedia in this fashion obviously would not present any political concerns. Those issues are believed to be part of the reason Wikipedia is not generally accessible in the People's Republic of China. As printed text rather than an editable wiki, it would also have little relevance to efforts by the PRC government to control internet activity in the country.
Ironically, if this curious circumstance were to raise concerns anywhere, theoretically it should be among Western intellectual property rights holders. The DVD is undoubtedly an unauthorized copy, and Lih explained that legal movies are quite scarce in China. The legal version would often be prohibitively expensive to the average Chinese, leaving the market dominated by cheap knockoffs. This phenomenon, along with the fact that potential customers might be Western tourists as much as locals, explains the resort to low-cost English blurbs. As Lih put it: "Wikipedia: bringing information to pirated DVDs near you."