In recent years, those who have been paying attention to intellectual property law developments internationally know that the national government of China has been taking important steps towards creating a legitimate IP rights regime within a country that is nominally a Communist one. A series of recent news headlines coming out from China indicate that the government is continuing to take action to advance the prospects of copyright owners both foreign and domestic operating in that country.
On November 5th, Bloomberg reported that the Danish toy manufacturer Lego had won a case in Chinese courts against a series of domestic defendants involved in the sale of copyright infringing building blocks and miniature figures under the Lepin brand. Lego was awarded 4.5 million yuan (nearly $650,000) in damages by the Guangzhou Yuexiu District Court against four defendants including Shantou Meizhi Model Co. The case was just the latest intellectual property rights victory in China for Lego, which last year both completed a successful case against another copyright infringer and secured a ruling by the Beijing Higher Court that the Lego logo and the name were both well-known trademarks in China.
On November 7th, Chinese state news media reported that the China Audio-Video Copyright Association (CAVCA) had notified a major karaoke service provider and various karaoke box managers to remove 6,609 songs because of copyright issues. More than 3,800 songs removed from karaoke boxes were removed on behalf of a Hong Kong-based entity which isn’t a member of the CAVCA. The association, which was established in 2008 for collective copyright management for video and audio works, also reported that it would likely be issuing further removal notices in the weeks to come.
On the same day, Chinese state news media also issued reports indicating that the National Copyright Administration (NCA), China’s official state authority for copyright issues, had helped to facilitate the takedown of 570,000 short videos from 15 China-based online video sharing platforms. The video takedown was part of an effort by the NCA to ensure that these platforms better ensure that the copyrighted content they host are published in accordance with the proper authorization from copyright owners.
These headlines are further proof that China, long known as and still considered to be a major international contributor to IP theft and piracy issues, has taken steps to rectify these issues in the months since President Xi Jinping publicly stated that “IP infringers will pay a heavy price” last July. A look at China’s economy profile in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 IP Index shows that some of these recent copyright actions directly address certain weaknesses in China’s IP regime. The country received no score whatsoever for the provision of expeditious injunctive-style relief and disabling of copyright infringing content online. While it’s not clear how expeditious the NCA’s video takedown action was, it at least provided injunctive-style relief on behalf of copyright issues. The same holds true for the CAVCA’s karaoke takedown efforts. It’s also possible that at least the NCA’s actions could improve China’s score in another criteria where it ranked poorly, namely the availability of legal measures providing necessary exclusive rights to prevent copyrights on web hosting and streaming platforms.
While the United States continues to maintain a sizable lead in copyright and overall IP rights ahead of China, the situation continues to highlight an on-going dichotomy in how these two major world economies are currently treating owners of patents. Similar to these copyright actions, China has also been supporting patent owners by passing reforms such as extended periods of exclusivity for drug patents and incentivizing inventors to file patent applications with subsidies and tax credits. In the United States, we have a Supreme Court that continually refuses to address the issues it has created regarding patentability in computer software and biomedical fields and a Congress which has largely abdicated its responsibility to bring legislative clarity to the question of what is and isn’t patentable under Section 101 of U.S. patent code. The U.S. continues to kick the proverbial can down the road while the Chinese have been busy cleaning up the economic mess created from decades of IP infringement. Indeed, Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare could wind up being all too applicable to the situation currently playing out between these two national-level IP regimes.
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