Rise in copyright infringement actions brought by traditional media against online media

The Beijing Youth Daily brought an action before the Beijing Haidian District People’s Court against Beijing Sina Internet Information Service Co Ltd for changing the title of a Beijing Youth Daily article and then republishing it on www.sina.com.cn without the newspaper's permission and without paying remuneration.

Sina raised several arguments in its defence, including that:

  • the article was an interview in question and answer format, so there was no creative work by the author and the author did not own copyright in the statements made by the interviewee;
  • even if copyright subsists, it was a joint work of the plaintiff and the interviewee and the plaintiff had no right to take action alone;
  • its use was fair use falling under the exemptions set out in the Copyright Law and the Regulation on the Protection of the Right to Communicate Works to the Public over Information Networks in China, as the regulation provides that:

where any person provides any work through the information network under the circumstances that the inclusion or quotation of a published work to the general public for the purpose of reporting current events is unavoidable, he may be exempted from obtaining the copyright owner’s permission and from paying the relevant remuneration to the copyright owner.

The court held that pursuant to the employment contract and another agreement signed between the plaintiff and the author, the Beijing Youth Daily owned the copyright in the work, including the rights of communication through an information network. The defendant’s arguments that copyright did not subsist in the article and that the copyright was jointly owned by the plaintiff and the interviewee, as well as its fair use defence, were all rejected by the court. Sina was ordered to remove the article from its website and pay compensation to the plaintiff.

This case is not the only one of its type to be brought before the Beijing Haidian District People’s Court. Other cases have been lodged by traditional media operators against online media for infringement of copyright in news articles. While the unauthorised reproduction of other parties’ articles is not new in the media industry, previously traditional media operators have been more tolerant. The recent increased number of court case reflects the fact that operators of traditional media are now determined to enforce their rights, most likely because they want to stop this type of free riding by online media companies, which are running businesses at low cost but receiving high advertising revenues.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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