On November 3, 2023, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) released the Typical Cases of Film Intellectual Property Protection by the People’s Courts (人民法院电影知识产权保护典型案例). The SPC stated, “In order to strengthen the publicity of the rule of law in the film field, further stimulate the innovation and creativity of the film industry, and promote the prosperity of socialist culture, the Supreme People’s Court issued typical cases on the protection of film intellectual property rights. Typical cases include both criminal cases and civil cases, involving pirated recordings and dissemination of theatrical movies, protection of the integrity rights of works, adaptation rights, information network dissemination rights, reasonable use of copyrights, protection of trade secrets, etc., which are important for promoting the rule of law. It is of positive significance to speed up the construction of a powerful film country.”
8 Typical Cases as explained by the SPC follow:
1. Copyright infringement cases involving Ma XX, Ma YY and others [Criminal Judgment of Yangzhou Intermediate People’s Court of Jiangsu Province （2020）苏10刑初11号]
[Basic case facts] From June 2016 to February 2019, the defendants Ma XX, Ma YY, Wen Jie, and Lu collaborated with others for the purpose of profit, colluded with theater staff to illegally obtain movie masters and keys, and then copied hundreds of movies such as “The Wandering Earth” and “Crazy Alien” with high-definition equipment, and sold the pirated and copied movies to “movie bar” operators to gain illegal profits.
[Judgment Result] The Intermediate People’s Court of Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province held that the defendants Ma XX, Ma YY, Wen Jie, and Lu copied and distributed other people’s film works without the permission of the copyright owner for the purpose of profit, and jointly implemented the production The act of selling pirated films, with huge illegal gains and other particularly serious circumstances, constitutes a crime of copyright infringement. The four defendants were sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of four to six years, and fined from RMB 600,000 to RMB 5.5 million, and their illegal gains were recovered. After the verdict was announced, the parties did not appeal or protest, and the first-instance judgment has become legally effective.
[Typical Significance] This case is a typical case in which the act of stealing and distributing theater movies constitutes a crime of copyright infringement. The people’s courts perform their intellectual property trial duties in accordance with the law and severely crack down on illegal and criminal acts of infringement and piracy in the film field, which is of great significance to strengthening the copyright protection of theatrical films and promoting the healthy development of the film and television industry.
2. Liang XX’s copyright infringement case [Criminal Judgement of the Shanghai No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court (2021）沪03刑初101号]
[Basic Case Facts] Since 2018, the defendant Liang XX has instructed Wang YY and others to develop and operate the “Renren Film and Television Subtitle Group” website and Android, IOS, Windows, MacOSX, TV and other clients, and instructed Xie ZZ and others to download unauthorized film and television works from overseas websites, translate, produce and upload them to relevant servers, and provide users with online viewing and downloading through the “Renren Film and Television Subtitle Group” website and related clients operated by them. There are 32,824 unauthorized film and television works on the “Renren Film and Television Subtitle Group” website and related clients, with a total of about 6.83 million members and an illegal business amount of more than 12 million RMB.
[Judgment Result] The Shanghai No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court held after trial that the defendant Liang XX copied and distributed other people’s works without the permission of the copyright owner for the purpose of profit, and there were other particularly serious circumstances, which constituted the crime of copyright infringement. Liang was sentenced to three years and six months in prison and fined RMB 1.5 million, and his illegal gains were recovered. After the verdict was announced, the parties did not appeal or protest, and the first-instance judgment has become legally effective.
[Typical Significance] There are many film and television works in this case and the rights holders are dispersed. The judgment clarified the legal application issues such as the crime of copyright infringement and the determination of the number of infringing film and television works. The criminal liability of the organizers and main participants shall be investigated in accordance with the law, and severe crackdowns shall be carried out for serious infringement of film copyright.
3. Copyright infringement dispute case between Shanghai Art Film Studio Co., Ltd. and Chongqing Yun Media Information Technology Co., Ltd. [Chongqing Fifth Intermediate People’s Court （2019）渝05民初3828号Civil Judgment]
[Basic facts of the case] Shanghai Art Film Studio Co., Ltd. owns the copyrights to the film works of the cartoons “Calabash Brothers” and “Calabash Little King Kong,” as well as the copyright to the character modeling art works of “Calabash Brothers” and “Calabash Little King Kong.” Chongqing Yun Media Information Technology Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Yun Media Technology Company) and others based on the story clips of the characters such as Seven Calabash Babies and Calabash King Kong in the cartoon, replaced the Mandarin carried by the audio data of the characters in the original work with Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, changed the dialogue content of the characters in the original work, produced multiple short videos of “Calabash Dialect Version,” and uploaded them to websites and public accounts for dissemination. Shanghai Animation Film Studio Co., Ltd. filed a lawsuit in court on the grounds that the above-mentioned actions carried out by Yun Media Technology Company and others constituted copyright infringement.
[Judgment Result] The Fifth Intermediate People’s Court of Chongqing held after trial that Yun Media Technology Company and others jointly produced the short video involved in the case, deliberately exaggerated the use of vulgar, negative, dark and uncivilized terms in dialects, changed the dialogue content of the characters in the original work, and vilified the original work. The character image in the work was uploaded to the Internet platform for wide dissemination, which conflicts with the core socialist values, damages the legitimate rights and interests of the copyright owner, and constitutes copyright infringement. It was ruled that Yun Media Technology Company and others should immediately stop the infringement, jointly publish a statement to eliminate the impact, and jointly compensate for economic losses. After the first-instance judgment, none of the parties appealed.
[Typical Significance] The judgment of this case emphasizes that the derivative use of other people’s film works must not deface the characters in the film works, and must not include cultural dross. It must vigorously promote the core socialist values, which plays a positive guiding role in establishing healthy and civilized rule of law in the film industry.
4. Copyright ownership and infringement dispute case between Yu Mouzhu and Zhejiang Dongyang Meila Media Co., Ltd. [Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court of Sichuan Province （2018）川01民初1122号 Civil Judgment]
[Basic facts of the case] Yu Mouzhu published his novel “Wild Lily in Bloom” (盛开的野百合) on the website under the pseudonym Yu Mou, and adapted the novel into a script of the same name and sent it to Emei Film Group Co., Ltd. Since then, Zhejiang Dongyang Meila Media Co., Ltd. commissioned others to write the “Youth” movie script, and the film of the same name jointly produced with Huayi Brothers Film Co., Ltd. and others was released. Yu Mouzhu believes that the plot setting, character relationships, lines, and song and dance combinations of the “Youth” movie are highly overlapped with its novel and script, constituting substantial similarities, exceeding the boundaries of reasonable reference, and constituting an infringement of its rights to adapt and film and believes Zhejiang Dongyang Meila Media Co., Ltd., as the producer of the film “Youth” and other parties, jointly committed infringement.
[Judgment Result] The Intermediate People’s Court of Chengdu City, Sichuan Province held that there are obvious differences in the specific subject matter, story line, and theme between the “Youth” movie and Yu Mouzhu’s works. As far as the plot of the work is concerned, the multiple similar plots claimed by Yu Mouzhu are objective facts and limited expressions were not original and should not be protected. The plot of the disputed book and the character relationships advocated by Yu are obviously different from the movie “Youth.” Readers and audiences will not believe them to be similar and they do not have substantial similarities. Therefore, the all claims are dismissed. Yu Mouzhu was dissatisfied and appealed. The second-instance judgment of the Sichuan Provincial Higher People’s Court rejected the appeal and upheld the original judgment.
[Typical Significance] The judgment in this case clarified that objective facts and limited expressions are not original and are not protected by copyright law, and should be filtered when comparing infringements. The judgment also clarifies the correct comparison content and comparison method when determining whether a film work is infringing, protects the legitimate rights and interests of film copyright owners in accordance with the law, maintains a fair market competition order, and has positive significance for the prosperity of film creation.
5. Dispute case between Beijing iQiyi Technology Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Qiaojiaren Culture Media Co., Ltd. for infringement of the right to disseminate work information online [Beijing Intellectual Property Court (2021）京73民终2496号 Civil Judgment]
[Basic facts of the case] Beijing iQiyi Technology Co., Ltd. was authorized to obtain the exclusive information network dissemination rights and rights protection rights for the movie “I am not Madame Bovary.” The APP operated by Shanghai Qiaojiaren Culture Media Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Qiaojiaren Company) provides online playback of the complete content of the film involved and added corresponding dubbing, sign language translation, and source subtitles on the basis of the pictures and sound effects of the video involved in this case, but no identification/prevention mechanism to limit viewership to those with dyslexia was used. Beijing iQiyi Technology Co., Ltd. believes that the APP provides online playback services for the accessible version of the movie “I Am Not Madame Bovary” to unspecified members of the public, infringing on its right to information network dissemination, and filed a lawsuit in court, requesting an order against Qiaojiaren Company to stop the infringement and compensate for economic losses and reasonable expenses.
[Judgment Result] The Beijing Intellectual Property Court held that the “accessible means that can be perceived by people with dyslexia” stipulated in the Copyright Law should include special restrictions on this “accessible means”, that is, it should be limited to meeting the requirements of and exclusive use of people with dyslexia. The alleged infringement of Qiaojiaren Company is open to the unspecified public and does not meet the above conditions. It does not belong to statutory fair use and constitutes infringement. Considering that the original intention of Qiaojiaren Company was to make films accessible to people with disabilities and that the video involved had few clicks, the Court awarded economic losses of 10,000 RMB.
[Typical Significance] This case is the country’s first dispute involving an accessible version of a movie that infringes on the right to disseminate work information online. The judgment clarified that “providing published works to people with dyslexia in an accessible manner that they can perceive” is limited to the exclusive use of people with dyslexia. As a “fair use,” an effective verification mechanism for “people with dyslexia” should be adopted and exclude those who do not meet the criteria. The judgment in this case is conducive to the accurate implementation of the relevant international treaties that our country has joined (the “Marrakesh Treaty”), to the comprehensive protection of the rights of copyright owners, and to the regulation of the production and distribution of accessible versions of movies.
6. Zhejiang Shenghe Network Technology Co., Ltd. and Legend IP Co., Ltd. Confirmation of Non-infringement of Copyright Dispute Case [Hangzhou Internet Court（2021）浙0192民初10369号 Civil Judgment]
[Basic Case Facts] The Korean game “Legend of Mir 2” was launched in China in 2001. The rights holder, Legend IP Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Legend IP”), after learning that the movie “Blue Moon” was about to be broadcast exclusively on the platform, believed that the movie infringed on the game’s copyright and sent a letter to the platform requesting to stop distributing the movie. The film producer sent a letter of reminder to Legend IP to enforce their IP, but Legend IP neither withdrew the warning nor sued. After the movie was released, Zhejiang Shenghe Network Technology Co., Ltd., as the copyright owner of the movie, sued for a declaratory judgement that the movie did not infringe the above-mentioned game copyright.
[Judgment Result] The Hangzhou Internet Court held that the overall picture of the game involved in the case is completely different from that of the movie in terms of picture composition, picture smoothness, lens experience, and audio-visual effects, and that the specific creative elements in the selection and arrangement of the audio-visual pictures are very different. There is a substantial difference, and the judgment confirms that there is no infringement. Legend IP was dissatisfied and filed an appeal. The second-instance judgment of the Intermediate People’s Court of Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province rejected the appeal and upheld the original judgment.
[Typical Significance] The judgment of this case clarifies the thoughts of comparing whether the overall picture of the game and the film works are infringing, and points out that a work created later does not constitute infringement if it only refers to the theme or conception of the prior work, but specifically expresses that it has been separated from or differs from the prior work. The judgment of this case is conducive to guiding the development and prosperity of multi-style cultural innovation and promoting the high quality integrated development of the cultural industry.
7. Dispute over trade secret infringement between Xinli Media Group Co., Ltd. and Beijing Paihua Culture Media Co., Ltd. [Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court(2017）京0105民初68514号 Civil Judgment]
[Basic facts of the case] Xinli Media Group Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Xinli Company) is the copyright holder of the movie “The Legend of Wukong.” It entrusted Beijing Paihua Culture Media Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Paihua Company) with the audio post-production of the film. Both parties signed a contract and agreed on a confidentiality clause. During the performance of the contract, Paihua Company violated the confidentiality agreement by outsourcing some of the work to outsiders for actual completion, and transmitted the film materials to the outsiders under the title “WKZ” (the first letters of the transliteration of the film title) through Baidu Cloud. While the film material was being stored on Baidu Cloud, it was hacked by criminals, causing the film involved to be leaked through the Internet before it was released. Xinli Company sued, requesting Paihua Company to stop the unfair competition behavior of disclosing the trade secrets of the film involved, make a public statement to eliminate the impact, and compensate for economic losses.
[Judgment Result] The Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court held after trial that Paihua Company violated the confidentiality agreement by disclosing the film material involved to a party outside the case, and uploaded the material to Baidu Cloud, which ultimately caused the material to be leaked on the Internet. Both of these acts constituted Infringement of trade secrets. It was ruled that Paihua Company should compensate Xinli Company for economic losses of 3 million RMB and rights protection expenses of more than 300,000 RMB, and make a public statement to eliminate the impact. After the first-instance judgment, none of the parties appealed.
[Typical Significance] This case is a typical case of protecting materials as trade secrets during the film production process. Film materials are trade secrets, and there are many subjects involved in the film production process. All parties involved in film production have strict confidentiality obligations in all aspects of film production. Any violation of confidentiality obligations shall bear corresponding legal liability. The judgment in this case is conducive to promoting the standardization and legalization of the film production process, is conducive to protecting the rights of relevant rights holders involved in film production, and is conducive to promoting the prosperity and development of the film industry.
8. Unfair competition dispute case between Xinghui Overseas Co., Ltd. and Guangzhou Zhengkai Cultural Communication Co., Ltd. [Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court（2020）粤73民终2289号 Civil Judgment]
[Basic Case Facts] The Hong Kong movie “The King of Comedy” has a high reputation and the relevant public attention is high. Guangzhou Zhengkai Culture Communication Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Zhengkai Company) and Li XX promoted the accused infringing TV series “The King of Comedy 2018” on Weibo and WeChat official accounts in 2018 as the “series #King of Comedy” , and claimed in media promotions that it was adapted from “The King of Comedy” and so on. Hong Kong film copyright owner Xinghui Overseas Co., Ltd. filed a lawsuit in court, claiming that Zhengkai Company and Li XX were unfair competing.
[Judgment Result] After a hearing, the Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court held that by taking into account the box office receipts of the movie involved during the theatrical release in Hong Kong, the publicity efforts conducted before and during theatrical release, the number of films played on authorized video websites, the degree of continuous media coverage of the movie, and the involvement of the relevant public in the evaluation of the movie, among other factors, it could be fully proved that the titles of the movie involved had a certain degree of influence. The acts of Zhengkai Company and Li XX constituted the act of imitating and confusing the film name and false publicity with a certain degree of influence, and Zhengkai Company and Li XX shall bear the legal liabilities for unfair competition according to law.
[Typical Significance] In this case, the Anti-Unfair Competition Law is applied to protect the names of movies screened in Hong Kong in accordance with the law, and in light of the dissemination characteristics of film works, the essential requirements and considerations for determining the names of audiovisual works “having a certain impact” as prescribed in Article 6 of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law are clarified, which are of positive significance in strengthening the protection of film works, and are conducive to creating a sound market environment for the development and prosperity of the film industry.
The original announcement is available here (Chinese only).