Beijing IP Court Rules on Copyright Protection for Sports Broadcasts

jordan

According to a recent posting on the Weixin account of IPHouse (结案信息 ┃ 北京知识产权法院审结涉及体育赛事节目的两起著作权侵权纠纷案, March 30, 2018), the Beijing IP Court has now decided the second instance appeals of two cases involving online piracy of sports broadcasts, an issue that is important to the development of China’s professional sports, as well as Olympic broadcasters and foreign leagues with large Chinese audiences, such as the National Basketball Association.

Most Chinese academics have been in agreement that live broadcasts (including webcasts) of professional sports broadcasts need to have some form of IP-related protection, whether under the Anti-unfair Competition Law, as a subject of the Copyright Law, or as a form of “neighboring rights” under China’s Europe-inspired copyright system.   During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the broadcasts of the Olympic games also enjoyed a form of sui generis protection against piracy – an issue that I had been involved with along with rightsholders at that time.  The controversies surrounding the consequences of each form of possible protection were detailed in an article in 2010 by Prof. Seagull Song,  as well as a more article by Wei Liu and  Jiarui Liu (“Copyright Protection of Sports Programs in China,” 63 Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA (2017)).  It has also been the subject of meetings and conferences hosted by the United States and others, experts dialogues and numerous blogs posted here, including a blog on the lower court case posted on here.

Copyright protection would afford address interactive streaming over the internet, while neighboring rights protection affords rights to broadcasters.  Many believed that unfair competition was too vague and could create difficulties in licensing internationally.  These issues were raised in the context of the long-overdue, proposed amendments to China’s Copyright Law.  For these reasons, the 2013 US-China Experts Dialogue, in particular, made the following recommendation:

“4.3 Live Sports Programming and Non-interactive Streaming

The experts unanimously agreed that when the production of live sports programming involves creativity and originality, it shall be protected under current China Copyright Law.  The experts supported the provisions of the latest available amendment of the Copyright Law which provides a bifurcated approach – the adoption of “broadcast rights” to give protection to non-interactive streaming media and the right of communication through information networks to protect interactive streaming media. This approach should provide greater flexibility and depth to the protection of the copyright.”

Delays in resolving these two cases were understandable in light of the uncertainty around the proposed amendments to the copyright law, the significance of these issues to numerous rightsholders and sporting events, the increasing importance of licensing revenue in the China market using international copyright standards,  the impact on Chinese rightsholders that may be pursuing cases overseas where copyright protection is more secure, and the role of copyright protection in providing a foundation for a diversity of revenue streams in order to provide greater stability to the beneficiaries of the system (see the “Jordan” store that has recently opened up in Beijing, above).

In the Sina case, which was the subject of my previous blog, the lower court had determined after some exhaustive analysis that the live broadcast of a sporting event constituted a cinematographic “work” under China’s copyright law.  The Beijing High Court reversed noting that cinematographic works have to be fixed/stable and creative.  In the case in suit, the production had not been stable and fixed in a material form and therefore did not constitute a cinematographic work.  Moreover, as Sina did not pursue the anti-unfair competition claim on appeal, the Court had no basis to adjudicate that claim to provide an alternative avenue of relief for it.

In the companion case involving CCTV and its recorded broadcasts of the Brazilian World Cup (2014), CCTV had advocated that the broadcast constituted either a cinematographic work or an audiovisual recording (entitled to neighboring rights protection).  The lower court had determined that it was entitled to be considered an AV recording and had awarded 670,000 RMB in damages.  The Beijing IP Court confirmed that it was also entitled to protection as an AV recording which is protected over information networks in part because it was stable and fixed on a physical medium and, as with the prior case, it was not sufficiently creative to be a cinematographic work.  The court however increased the damage award to 4,000,000 RMB.

Based on this summary, the cases seem to leave open the question of whether AV recording protection afforded as a “neighboring right” to a broadcaster, also permits the broadcast to claim infringement for a live/interactive retransmission of the broadcast over the internet, which was not a fact at issue in this case.  Broadcasting organizations do enjoy neighboring rights protection under Article 44 of the Copyright Law.   However, this neighboring rights protection most directly addresses wired and wireless retransmission of the signal, rather than interactive communication over the Internet (See article by Seagull Song, and quote above).  Moreover, this was exactly the problem that was faced by the Beijing Copyright Administration in the 2008 Olympics when it enacted short-term, sui generis rules to address this problem.  I hope that the full case will explain this further.

Article 41 of the PRC Copyright Law grants the owner of video recordings the right to distribute the recordings over an information network.  The court could have resolved the issue of the stability/fixation of the broadcasts in both cases by acknowledging any momentary delay in broadcasting and consequent fixation in real time broadcasting as a “recording” (see video of editing at an NFL game, below).  Moreover, the level of creativity being required of a cinematographic work seems unduly high, particularly when compared to comparably lower levels of creativity required of photographic works, as well as the professional editing, narration and script line that goes into any professional broadcast, along with the copyright attributable to various elements of the broadcast, such as the narration, mid-game performances, etc.  Thus, these cases do not fully address protection for the less controversial creative aspects of professional sports broadcasts.  Due to the temporal value of a live sports broadcast, it is also important that rights are clearly defined in advance, a task for which local case law developments are ill-suited under China’s system, and that must apparently wait until legislative reform.  The Beijing IP Court did use the tool of enhancing damages to help address the need for greater deterrence, however it appears on the substance of copyrightability, its hands were tied by current legislation.

I welcome any further analyses, and postings of the Chinese and/or English texts of the case that may help further clarify these decisions and their impact.

 

US-China Entertainment Law Conference Highlights Business and Legal Developments

huayi

(From a presentation by Lisa Wang, General Counsel, Huayi Brothers Media Corporation)

The following is a readout of the US-China Entertainment Law Conference held at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles on November 2, 2016.  A list of the speakers is found at the end of the blog.  The program was co-hosted by USPTO and Loyola Law School.

Industry Trends:

 Although there have been several notable legal developments in entertainment law in China, the most dramatic changes have been in the market.  China is now the world’s second largest market for theatrical films, after the United States.  While box office revenue and attendance are down in the United States for motion pictures, China has experience incredible growth, with box office revenue nearly 50% in 2015 compared to 2014.   China will likely experience slower growth in 2016, and may enter a more sustainable rate of growth thereafter.   The industry is adapt to the increased importance of China through changing content to have wider appeal and including China in marketing and business development plans.   

Among the major China players, Wanda is now the largest owner of theatres in the world.  It acquired Legendary Pictures in a $3.5 billion media deal.  Tencent is the world’s largest purveyor of of videogames, with 4.2 billion USD in global revenues in 2015.  It is also the first ranked publisher on IOS and Apple app stores.  The Chinese market had 489.2 million video game users in the first half of 2016, with a growth rate of 30.1 percent compared to the first half of 2015.   Importantly, Chinese consumers now accept paying a fee for using online videogames.

 The investment trends for films from China include more direct investment in the United States and Europe, more collaborative production, and more local financing, especially for shows and including both television production and online productions.   Box office revenue will likely continue to grow, and online video will continue to disrupt ticket prices.  

Prof. Seagull Song of Loyola noted that in 2015, foreign films captured five of the top ten grossing films in China.  Market access restrictions are still impeding the market, and that the China market is still underperforming for its size.  However, with respect to market access restrictions, the dean of the Beijing Film Academy predicted that the current quota on foreign films is also likely to be relaxed, but that this relaxation is not likely to have much impact due to the preference of the public for locally made films.  

Regarding the on-line environment for content, Prof. Robert Merges of UC-Berkeley suggested that as platforms affect the distribution of content and provide increasing vertical integration, maintaining competition among the limited number of platforms is likely to become more difficult.  With vertical integration, Merges predicted that copyright is likely to become less important in China.  Branding will instead become more important to develop loyalty to a platform that provides a variety of content and services.   In addition, the development and ownership of data originating from platform services will become critical to platform success.

Taking a different approach, Prof. Eric Priest of the University of Oregon addressed the question of what happens when copyright is harder to enforce such as in the online environment.  With changing technologies, copyright allows its owners and creators to access new markets as they are created, providing them with some leverage with intermediary platforms, and helps stabilize the market for content creation by creating multiple revenue streams.  LeTV is an example of a company in China that began driving new copyright norms by investing in licensing of copyrighted content around 2009 and 2010.   The theme of a diversity of licensing revenue streams in addressing new markets and new technologies was later underscored by Shira Perlmutter of USPTO, who also look at trademark rights derived from copyrighted content in her key note speech, while also underscoring many of the continuing enforcement challenges foreign rights holders face.

As an example of the competitive challenges faced by copyright owners, Priest cited the example of ring back tones for music.  Seventy percent of China’s huge netizen population consume music.  However, most are not paying for this music – except for cell phone ring back tones.  Gross revenues received by mobile cell companies for ring back tones were nearly as high as gross revenue for the music industry in the United States.  However, the music industry received a paltry 105 million USD for its content from Chinese cell service providers compared to the 4 billion that was generated.  Thus, Priest’s discussion to a degree validated Merges’ discussion regarding how competition and integration were becoming increasing concerns.

IP Challenges:

Prof. Song gave a brief presentation on some of the top entertainment cases in areas such as defamation, ideas/expression dichotomy, merchandising rights, and first look rights of publishers.

In trademark, several speakers discussed the Kung Fu Panda / merchandising right case, which has also appeared in this blog.  Not all speakers were in favor of this modest trend of creating a new “merchandising right.”  In the United States, the issue was first addressed by our courts and later adopted into amendments in the Lanham Act which look at likelihood of confusion based on misleading endorsement or sponsorship of a product or service. (Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988 – concept of “confusion as to the sponsorship”), as well as the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 (protecting famous marks against either the blurring of their distinctiveness or the tarnishment of their reputation caused by unauthorized uses of identical or similar marks not solely on related goods but also on unrelated goods.)  In the United States case law requires a case by case analysis, particularly for unrelated goods and services, where the plaintiff can show a likelihood of confusion as to “sponsorship.”  Cynthia Henderson of USPTO underscored that in China, there may be a greater need for a merchandising right because of rampant bad faith filings,  lack of flexibility under China’s first to file system, lack of protection for lesser known marks, and difficulties in addressing infringements for protection across different classes of goods and services.

Prof. Zhang Ping. from Peking University, discussed the various possibilities for protecting the title of a work under Chinese law, including trademark protection, copyright protection and unfair competition.  Trademark protection in her view, could be deficient since  “in [the] real world, one does not pursue trademark protection for the title of a work until this work gains certain commercial value.”  In such instances, unfair-competition protection might be pursued as a supplemental remedy.   Prof. Zhang gave the example of the famous Wahaha mark (1989), which was originally the title of a popular song (1954).  A court determined that the creator of the song did not enjoy copyright protection in the title.  Unfair competition and merchandising rights may help in addressing these issues .

Several speakers addressed problems in copyright protection for live television entertainment, including but not limited to, live sports broadcasting.  Rebecca Borden of CBS noted that the scope of content that has uncertain protection under current Chinese copyright law incudes live broadcasts of sporting events (about which I have previously blogged), but also includes award shows, games shows, annual galas, etc.  Award shows have many similarities to sporting events, including filming of live reactions to awards/unexpected reactions, driving viewership in conjunction with unique performances or achievements, etc.  Prof. Jiarui Liu of the University of San Francisco noted that recognizing the creation of a professionally produced live sports broadcast as a creative work would likely provide the most stable protection for the investment in these works.

The video gaming industry also faces a number of IP challenges, as noted by Zhang Xin of Tencent and Song Haining of the Junhe Law firm.   Haidian District Court has been the epicenter of litigation involving onine gaming IP issues.  Total  adjudicated cases in 2014-2015 involving copyright were 183; trademarks 17, and unfair competition 9.  Courts have been willing to impose progressively higher damages, including damages based on actual or implied revenues attributable to the copyrightable infringement.  Due to the large amounts at stake, some cases will also satisfy criminal thresholds, and the public security agencies have been supportive.  See, eg., WeMade v. Xiaoxian (2016), which involves potentially billions of RMB in damages.

Charles Feng of East & Concord Partners gave an excellent presentation on preliminary injunction (PI) practice in China, an issue I have covered elsewhere on this blog.   Mr. Feng gave permission for me to post his ppt here.

In Mr. Feng’s view, the likelihood of prevailing on the merits is based on a calculation of the “certainty to prevail” minus “opposing evidence.”  If there is sufficient evidence and clear facts, which do not involve complicated comparison or necessitate judicial verification, a plaintiff is more likely to prevail.  PI’s are also rare in invention patent or software infringement cases.  The case should also not involve disputable or controversial issues, such as those involving the originality of a work, the doctrine of equivalents,  a prior-art defense, the similarity of marks  or goods, the well-known status of a mark, etc.  

In assessing the public interest, the court also looks at issues such as the necessity of intervening against fake and shoddy goods, supporting the security of people’s life, environmental conservation, etc. Generally, preliminary injunctions are rejected in case of a pharmaceutical products related patent and SEP’s.

Among the cases he cited: Telpa v. Media Plus(灿星)(Voice of China case), where  the defendant may have used trademarks completely incorporating plaintiff’s registered mark, and there was also trade name infringement.  A contrary case example is HBSA v. General Administration of Sport, involving the  跤王 “Wrestling King” mark in in Cl. 41 covering.  The General Administration of Sport organized games called “China Wrestling King Competition”. During the litigation, the defendant claimed the fair use defense. The Beijing No.2 Intermediate Ct.  noted that “Given the alleged mark of Wrestling King is a generic name, which may not be registered as a mark, and that the Trademark Review Adjudication Board has accepted the application for invalidation, the court does not believe that there is likelihood of prevailing on the merits.”

The concluding panel, which was moderated by me, included a lively discussion over IP, rule of law, the importance of the Chinese market, the role of the Chinese government, and the future direction of “entertainment law” in China.   Monique Joe highlighted the differences and unpredictability in the way the TM law is applied to address infringement and squatting issues.  Joshua Grode noted that he thought IP issues were not a major factor in deals.  Sheri Jeffrey noted that many deals do not contemplate the full scope of rights that may be licensed or created, including rights

Prof. Ma Yide refuted assertions that China is not protecting IP or that there were regulatory risks in China that made investment unattractive, noting that the growth in the market was likely the single biggest attractive force for foreign investor. Regulatory uncertainty was noted as a major factor in driving investors away from co-productions, despite a higher revenue share (47%) for coproduction versus an imported film.  The lack of certainty also dries down liquidity.  Putting together Robert Merges’ comments, the deal makers on the last panel, and the concerns about over the uncertainty of copyright protection in certain areas, several speakers questioned whether copyright was becoming the “chopped liver” of the entertainment sector – beautiful to look at, but rarely exploited in the proper way, which was a somewhat negative way to end an otherwise very positive and forward- looking program.

The preceding are my personal observations only.

SPEAKER LIST

Rebecca Borden Senior Vice President and Associate General Counsel, CBS
Mark Cohen Senior Counsel, United States Patent and Trademark Office
Jay Dougherty Professor, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Charles Feng Partner, East & Concord Partners
Neil Graham Attorney Advisor, Office of Policy and International Affairs,                                        United States Patent & Trademark Office
Josh Grode Partner, Irell & Manella LLP
Sheri Jeffery Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP
Monique Joe Head of Trademarks, Dreamworks Animation
LIU Chun-Tian  Dean,  Renmin University Intellectual Property Academy
LIU Jia-rui Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco School of Law
MA Yide President, Beijing Zhongguancun IP Research Institute
Robert Merges Professor, University of California Berkeley School of Law
Shira Perlmutter Chief Policy Officer, United States Patent & Trademark Office
Eric Priest Associate Professor, University of Oregon Law School
Bennett Pozil Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Banking, East West Bank
SONG Hai-ning Partner, Junhe Law Firm
Seagull Song Professor, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Simon Sun Executive Vice President, Le Vision Pictures USA
Lisa Wang General Counsel, Huayi Brothers Media Corporation
Michael Waterstone Dean, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Martin Willhite Chief Operating Office and General Counsel, Legendary Pictures
WU Manfang Dean,  Beijing Film Academy School of Management
ZHANG Ping Professor, Peking University Law School
ZHANG Xin Legal Director, Tencent Interactive Entertainment

 

 

 

 

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.

Copyright For Blockheads: Why Musicians Create in China’s High Piracy Environment

Following my recent blog posts on music copyright efforts in China, I have linked here an article published in July 2015 by  Prof. Jiarui Liu from Stanford University, on “Copyright for Blockheads: An Empirical Study of Market Incentive and Intrinsic Motivation” at the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts.  A Chinese language summary of the statistics in that article (with English captions) is available here.

This Article presents a systematic study regarding copyright incentives, based on industrial statistics and extensive interviews from the music industry in China, which Prof. Liu states is “a virtually copyright-free environment featuring one of the highest piracy rates in the world.”  This has in turn has caused a dramatic transformation of the music business.

Prof. Liu seeks to answer the following questions:

–          How do musicians earn their living in the shadow of rampant copyright piracy?

–          Are copyright incentives still relevant if it turns out that most musicians create music for   music’s sake, not for money?

–          Can niche musicians benefit from effective copyright enforcement even though copyright piracy mostly targets mainstream music?

–          Why do musicians choose music careers over more lucrative jobs?

–          Why do musicians commonly become multiple-job holders?

–          Why do musicians often earn the majority of income from their second jobs but spend the majority of time on music?

From his abstract:

The empirical research indicates three seemingly paradoxical phenomena: (1) while 17.9% of all themusicians in the  sample  referred  to  economic  benefits  as  at  least part  of  their  motivations  for  music creation, 97.4%  specifically recognized money as being important and helpful for music creation; (2) while  56.4%  alleged  that  copyright  piracy  did  not  affect  their  creative  motivations,  72%  agreed  that copyright piracy does affect music creation and (3) while 53.8% explicitly admitted that they had little awareness or knowledge of copyright, 92.3% indicated that the current  level of copyright protection is insufficient and 71.8% suggested that copyright law should provide strong incentives for music creation.  The empirical evidence itself provides compelling explanations for such paradoxes: Even though musicians  seem to  primarily create music for music’s sake, copyright law could still supply powerful incentives  for  music  production  in  a  way  that  not  only  caters  to  market  demand, but  also  allows  for broader  artistic  freedom…

Copyright  incentives do not function as a reward that musicians consciously bargain for and chase  after,  but as a  mechanism  that  preserves  market  conditions  for  gifted  musicians  to  prosper, including a decent standard of living, sufficient income to cover production costs and maximum artistic autonomy during the creative process.