China fully embraces Western copyright, and inevitably suffers from its ills

Modern copyright was invented in the West, with England’s 1710 Statute of Anne. But in the last few decades, the US and other Western nations have pushed for other parts of the world to bring in similarly restrictive laws.  This was purely out of self-interest, to allow Western copyright companies to extract their monopoly rents in non-Western markets as well as at home.  One country in particular has been pressured to bring in strong “protections” for both copyright and patents: China.  This was because it was perceived as a hotbed of intellectual “piracy” that needed to be tamed through the “civilising” influence of Western-style laws.

The export of the West’s obsession with enforcing copyright monopolies has brought with it the inevitable rise of copyright madness.  Here’s a good example of that, reported on the Sixth Tone site.  It involves a professional Chinese astrophotographer, Dai Jianfeng, and Visual China Group (VCG), China’s largest stock photo provider.  The latter demanded that Dai should pay compensation to VCG for publishing his own photos:

[Dai] posted on microblogging platform Weibo that VCG had accused his company of publishing 173 photos on its WeChat public account, in violation of copyright law. In its email, VCG demanded Dai either pay 51,900 yuan [about 6,600 euros]  as compensation, or pay 86,500 yuan [about 11,000 euros] as a “usage fee” for the 173 photos.

Dai expressed outrage in his Weibo post. “I’ve neither collaborated with VCG on any of these photos nor uploaded the photos to VCG, so how did VCG get the copyright?” 

VCG explained that it held the rights to the photos because it had licensed them from Stocktrek Images in the US, which in turn had licensed them from Getty Images.  But Dai claimed that he had received confirmation from Stocktrek Images that VCG does not hold rights to his photos.  Leaving aside the messy details of this situation, a Shanghai Zhenghan law firm that specialises in such copyright disputes confirmed that in theory a creator like Dai might have to pay to use their own works:

“The photographer would indeed need to pay the fee if VCG secured the licensing (of the photos) from their creator or copyright owner, and the licensing excludes the use (of the photos) by the creator or anyone else — meaning it was an ‘exclusive license’ under copyright law,” said Chen Shuyuan, a lawyer at the firm.

The Sixth Tone article provides further evidence that the copyright world in China is fast becoming as litigious as that in the West:

China has seen a growing number of intellectual property cases in recent years, with the Supreme People’s Court reporting last year an average increase of 24.5% each year since 2013. The government has rolled out measures to strengthen copyright protection, including the passage of the Civil Code in 2021, which increased punishments for copyright infringement.

The reality of that “strengthened copyright protection”, be it in China or in the West, is more time and money wasted on legal battles, and demands from companies that creators should pay for the privilege of using their own work.

Featured image by Visual China Group.

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