Renren case shows China's path on IPR protection

2021-02-05 12:08:15

The screenshot from Renren video official website.  That Shanghai police busted an alleged piracy gang and detained 14 suspects for pirating more than 20,000 Chinese and foreign television programs and films on Wednesday reflects the Chinese government’s determination to strengthen intellectual property rights protection. The suspects were detained for links with pirated-video platform YYeTs.com, one of the largest subtitling sites that allows millions of users to stream and download pirated copies of movies and TV shows. YYeTs.com, popularly known as “Renren film and video subtitle group” is reportedly affiliated to Renren Yingshi, one of the most popular sites for foreign TV shows. In November last year, China amended its copyright law, the third time since it was passed in 1990, to strengthen clauses on IPR and strike a balance between promotion of cultural exchanges and protection of intellectual property rights. The amended law says that distributing published works of literature, art or science for commercial use without permission of the copyright owner is a violation of IPR rules and those engaging in such acts will be duly penalized. However, the amended law allows works to be cited, studied or reported for education and research purposes. The amended law has also expanded the scope of copyright. Besides authors of literary, artistic and scientific works, it also protects the rights of publication, attribution, alteration, reproduction, distribution, lease, exhibition, performance, projection, broadcasting, information network transmission, production, adaptation, translation and compilation that are enjoyed by the copyright holder. But the law allows for translation, adaptation, compilation, playing or reproducing in a small amount works that have already been published for teaching in schools or scientific research It, however, prohibits the translation, distribution, adaptation, republication or playing of published work for commercial purposes. YYeTs.com has streamed foreign movies and TV shows in the past, too, many of them without permission from the makers. And the court will decide whether the suspects conducted crimes of IPR infringement. . Violation in copyright cases is generally determined on the basis of what constitutes “publication and distribution”, and “sharing”. If a person translates subtitles of foreign films or TV programs or parts of a published work for study, research or private amusement, he or she does not violate any copyright law. But by distributing a published work online without the permission of the copyright owner, a person would infringe the law, because online distribution could be a commercial exercise. Some argue that YYeTs.com used some subtitle translations to establish communication among a certain group of viewers, not specifically for commercial purposes, and therefore did not violate the copyright law. But the copyright law also covers online platforms, and irrespective of whether some subtitle translators benefited from the distribution of foreign TV shows, such practices are an infringement of the IPR rights of those shows. The IPR law states that technical measures may be circumvented to provide a small number of published works for teaching in schools or scientific research, but such measures should not be extended to other activities. True, the law has learnt a lot from Western legal systems, but it still needs to be improved given the rapid pace of socioeconomic development. This IPR legislation may be modern in letter, but China still needs to adapt it to its own socioeconomic situation so that the law can be enforced in spirit too. China’s copyright law is a good legal weapon to strengthen IPR rights protection and safeguard the rights of creative individuals, researchers and artists. Yet the international community needs to think how to ensure IPR rights protection in this digital era of fast-changing situations and realities. Human civilization is based on communication and mutual learning. Had there been no translation and sharing of works since ancient times, there would be little or no cultural exchanges among countries, leaving the international community poorer and preventing the development of science, arts and all other subject. Too strict an IPR law could reduce the scope of, if not stop, such educational and cultural exchanges in the digital era. However, China has been striving to improve its IPR law enforcement system despite the challenges of the digital era and the need to balance cultural exchange promotion and protection IPR protection. The author is a professor at the law school at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.