IP and Law

Government policy strikes another blow against creativity in advertising

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Is this an illegal movie title?

It's not ads for bogus drugs and questionable surgical procedures that are the targets of new regulations - this time it's sloppy writing.

New rules slated for passage in Jilin Province will require that "standard characters" be used in ten categories of writing, including signs, slogans, advertisements, printed material, and movie titles. The rules reserve traditional characters for use in artistic works like calligraphy and seal carving, and scholarly materials, like research papers and reproductions of ancient books.

This means that not only must advertisements stick to plain, simplified characters, but that net-speak, mangled English, and creative alteration of characters are all apparently against the law. The media doesn't go so far as to link standard characters with the construction of a harmonious society, but most reports agree that the situation is dire:

These are all things that are common in daily life, and many people think them normal. But they unquestionably show disrespect to the language. Promoting the standardization of speech and writing has a direct relationship with the personal welfare of the people and long-term implications for the development of society. And more importantly, it is a major sign of the cultural level of a city and of a nation.

Some of the comments on this new set of regulations make it seem that punning is being outlawed as well - no more twisting of chengyu to include clever references to a product being sold, as in the movie title pictured in the above poster, which replaces the in 一往情深 "passionately devoted" with the homonym , which refers to the Internet.

Overblown headlines aside, what's odd about the reaction in the media is that national regulations on standard oral and written communication that went into effect on 1 January 2001 already contain most of these provisions in language that is essentially identical. Those traditional characters on store signs aren't really supposed to be there in the first place. The new Jilin regulations go just a bit further by prescribing consequences if the rules are not followed.

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