Rationalization #787 why trade with China is bad: “They’re infringing our copyrights! Their government is doing nothing to stop it. We’ve got to impose sanctions until they get tough.”

When Americans infringe American copyrights, we throw up our hands. “What can you do in the computer age?” When the Chinese do the same thing, however, it’s a massive injustice, and its existence “proves” that their government is doing nothing about it.

Yes, we’ve got a particularly clean example of anti-foreign bias on our hands. It’s also particularly outrageous, because Chinese infringement – unlike American infringement – probably costs copyright holders very little. After all, Americans might actually be willing to pay $19.99 for a CD. But all but a handful of Chinese would choose to do without if they had to pay full price.

Furthermore, given how hard it is to enforce copyright here at home, what exactly do critics have in mind when they demand that China “get tough”? If we really wanted to crack down on American copyright infringement, we’d throw infringing teens in jail and auction their parents’ homes to pay the fines. It would probably work, but almost no one wants to see such draconian policies in the U.S.

Perhaps trade opponents simply want China to adopt iron-fisted copyright policies we’d never adopt ourselves. Perhaps. But if China complied, I have no doubt that the usual suspects would cry foul – and switch to Rationalization #7: “We can’t trade with a regime that brutally violates human rights.”