USPTO and Renmin University Copyright Protection Program Highlights Importance of Copyright Reform for China

revenuestreams

Last July 20, 2016,USPTO and Renimin University jointly hosted a program at Renmin University on Copyright Developments in China and the United States.  The program was covered by some of the specialty media.  Here’s a brief summary regarding some of the four key developments in China that I abstracted from the speakers at the conference:

  1. Building upon some of the path breaking work of Eric Priest and others, there appeared to be near unanimity amongst the speakers and audience of the importance of revenue diversity for China’s creative industries to thrive.  Amongst the areas highlighted, were the importance of public performance rights, of licensing for digitalization of content, of small claims procedures for copyright owners, the utility of collective management in certain contexts, and the importance of providing copyright protection for sports broadcasting (as opposed to using neighboring rights or antiunfair competition law).  The current copyright licensing environment in China uniquely supports one exclusive license, but even that revenue source is vulnerable to non-renewal if piracy erodes the value of buying legitimate content and may therefor not be sustainable in the face of “piratical” or free competition.  Musicians, as an example, are heavily dependent on public performances and secondary sources of revenue, such as DVD/CD/ streaming sales are thin.  Revenue diversity can also included non-copyright revenue streams, such as trademark rights, and perhaps merchandising rights.  Efforts have also been underway to increase pledging of copyrighted content, which can help with financing of copyrighted content.
  2. Many of the Chinese speakers spoke about increasingly creative enforcement approaches, such as the Sword Network Campaign,  enhanced administrative supervision over platforms (16 video sites/20 music sites/20 literary sites) and punitive damages.  Although they are still a minority of criminal IP cases, there is an increasing number of  criminal referrals from administrative cases (from 2005 to 2015, more than 450 cases were referred to criminal prosecution).  Article 287 of the newly amended Criminal Law, which provides for criminal liability by reason of providing computer services was noted as a potential area for expanded criminal copyright liability.
  3. Technology and globalization were making enforcement increasingly more difficult, while at the same opening up possibilities for more efficient enforcement techniques.  Audiovisual use of the internet was one of the most popular reasons in China to be online (73.2% of netizens view AV products in China). Music is a close second (72.8%), while literature was only 43.1%.     Copyright protections which did not extend to interactive (online) environments, were increasingly undercutting revenue streams.  China’s reservation under article 15(1) of the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty was noted (“(1) Performers and producers of phonograms shall enjoy the right to a single equitable remuneration for the direct or indirect use of phonograms published for commercial purposes for broadcasting or for any communication to the public.”).  The increasing complexity of the copyright environment, including the environment for licensing was highlighted as a theme in both the United States and China.   Media box piracy was identified as a problem (see 湖南快乐阳光vs 清华同方).  A case involving use of parasitic software to modify the original code was noted, under the Antiunfair competition law ( 鹏讯 [深圳] v 上海虹连网络)
  4. Regarding enforcement, the efforts of the courts to develop precedential or guiding cases to resolve complicated emerging issues was also underscored, particularly due to the extensive delays in passing copyright law reform, which has now been ongoing for several years.  There were over 70 research topics underway as part of the copyright law reform.  There needs to be increased scope of protection of copyright and improved mechanisms for enforcement.  Some of the difficulties in providing copyright protection to certain areas were traced back to the original training program in 1985 in Nanjing on copyright law, which was provided by European experts, and introduced European concepts and models, such as neighboring rights.    Changes in substantive law and judicial practice, such as providing for treble damages,  sampling of allegedly infringing content, establishing a requisite standard for “originality” vs a non-original product (see 北京乐东 vs 北京昆仑 concerning copyright in entertainment software characters) idea vs. expression in variety shows (See Beijing High Court’s: 关于审理涉及综艺节目著作权纠纷案件若干问题的解答), harmonization with other laws (such as the Antiunfair Compeittion Law),  how much copying constituted infringement, discovery of source code to verify infringement of software products, and specialized IP courts/three-in-one (administrative/civil/criminal) tribunals were all noted.  In addition, an expanded scope for audiovisual works, or lowering of the creativity required for cinematographic works were noted as possible approaches to providing protection for sports broadcasts.   Rights holders were also selecting overseas venues for litigation where rights were sometimes better protected.

In general, the speakers agreed that China needs copyright reform for its own needs, and that this reform was not due to outside pressure. In addition, there are increasing opportunities for collaboration between the United States and China on the creation and distribution of copyrighted content, which appear to be mirroring increased collaboration in science and technology.  Ultimately, China needs improved copyright protection and enforcement in light of its own desires to increase its soft power, and support its creative industries.

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