A Country a Week: China, Part 2

The Chinese government was showing progress in copyright law, if only on paper. These laws however could not have predicted the internet and the coming digital age. In 2001 the Copyright Law was revised. This document had the difficult task of combining many different views of what copyright should protect. On one hand, it should protect the individual’s rights to their work but on the other hand, it also had to recognize that copyright is a right given to an individual by the state and should be used for the advancement of society in general. This balance is seen in Article 1 of the 2001 Copyright Law which explains that the law was enacted, “for the purpose of protecting the copyright of authors in their literary, artistic and scientific works and the rights and interests related to copyright, of encouraging the creation and dissemination of works conducive to the building of a socialist society that is advanced ethically and materially, and of promoting the progress and flourishing of socialist culture and sciences.

This document lays out what the subject matter is for copyright, who owns the copyright and what rights the copyright owner has. A “copyright protects the expression of the idea but not the idea itself.” According to Article 10 of the Chinese Copyright Law, a copyright holder owns the rights to:

Publication; authorship; revision; integrity; reproduction; distribution; rental; exhibition; performance; presentation; broadcasting; communication through an information network; cinematography; adaptation; translation; compilation and annotation.

As in the United States, it is not necessary to register your copyright in order to have it protected but it is recommended. The copyright lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years and, unlike the U.S., China recognizes moral rights in a piece of work. Some of the limitations in the law are different from other countries in order to realize the socialist agenda in copyrights. The State can use your work if it is deemed necessary in order to fulfill its duties.

For the first time in its history, China’s copyright law provides for enforcement and remedies for copyright infringement. These include everything from money to public apologies and even jail time. This is the most difficult part of implementing copyright law in China. Because it is a huge landmass, it becomes very difficult to regulate all of the citizens within. Since intellectual property rights are a new concept for the Chinese, courts and officials need to be trained in dealing with these issues. We will continue to see piracy levels in China at an alarming level if the system of enforcing copyright law does not improve. In 2004, China’s Supreme People’s Court lowered the legal threshold for trying someone for criminal punishment and were able to put rounded figures on the previously general terms of “relatively large” and “huge” profit gains which decided how much a person would be fined or how long their jail sentence would be. This was a big step in ensuring that the policy on paper could be upheld in real life.

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