On June 1, 2021, China’s National Copyright Administration (NCAC) released the Top Ten Infringement and Piracy Cases of 2020 (2020年度全国打击侵权盗版十大案件). The NCAC jointly released the cases with the National Office of Anti-Pornography in order to demonstrate the results of the work done by copyright law enforcement offices and to provide guiding cases. While China doesn’t use a common law precedent system, relevant Courts and Administrative Agencies will occasionally identify cases for guidance. Criminal copyright can be strictly enforced in China with significant fines and prison as these cases indicate.
As summarized with comments by the NCAC:
1. Beijing “10/24” Infringement upon Copyright in Internet Literature Case
In September 2018, based on relevant evidence, the public security authority in Beijing investigated the case. It was found upon investigation that since 2018, Qin and other persons have operated Dingyue Group and, without the permission of the copyright owners, provided 5,072 infringing online literary works to users on more than 10 APP platforms including the “Hongyan Biographies” “TXT Complete Free Novels”, and made profits through advertising, paid reading, and other means. In December 2020, the People’s Court of Haidian District, Beijing Municipality sentenced Beijing Dingyue Literature and Information Technology Co., Ltd. to a fine of 1.5 million RMB for the crime of copyright infringement, and sentenced Tan and other three persons to a fixed-term imprisonment of three years with a fines ranging from 200,000 RMB to 800,000 RMB, and sentenced the other eight persons to fixed-term imprisonment and a fine.
Comment: In recent years, the NCAC has continued to intensify the protection of copyrights in cyberliterature, issued the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Copyrights in Cyberliterature, and required that copyrights in the cyberliterature industry be enforced. This case concerns a crime committed by an entity which infringes on online literature copyright and involves a large number of persons and a large number of works involved in a case, with a high amount of illegal business revenue. The stern investigation and handling of this case is of great significance in cracking down on infringement and piracy of online literature and promoting the prosperous and sound development of online literature.
2. Shanghai Li et al for the Production and Sale of Pirated Toys
In October 2018, online inspections by Shanghai public security departments revealed evidence to the sale of suspected infringing and pirated toys. It was found upon investigation that from 2015 to April 2019, without the permission of the copyright owners, Li and other persons reproduced Lego toys by way of computer modeling, reproduction of drawings, commissioning others to develop molds and other means after splitting them, and sold them under the “Lepin” brand online and offline, involving 47 series of 663 products, with the amount involved at over 300 million RMB. In September 2020, the No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court of Shanghai Municipality sentenced Li to a fixed-term imprisonment of six years and imposed a fine of 90 million RMB for the crime of copyright infringement. The remaining eight were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from three years to four years and six months, and a fine. In December 2020, the Higher People’s Court of Shanghai Municipality rendered a ruling to dismiss the appeal and affirm the original judgment.
Comment: This is a typical case regarding the crime of copyright infringement committed with toys as the object of infringement. This case has used the judgment method of “comprehensively judging whether substantially similar works are constituted by the forms of products involved in the case” to explore such issues as accurately apprehending the reproduction of artistic works and accurately determining the substantial similarity of works, and has great significance for reference in strengthening the copyright enforcement of artistic works against criminal means.
3. “2-15” case of infringement upon copyright of film and television works in Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province
In February 2019, the Public Security Bureau of Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province, in conjunction with the copyright department, investigated the case according to the Ministry of Public Security, the National Copyright Administration and the State Film Administration. Upon investigation, Ma and other two persons secretly recorded and disseminated 413 films including films released by theaters during the Spring Festival holiday such as Wandering Earth and Feichi Life, with illegal gains of more than 4,044,000 RMB and 556,000 RMB respectively; Wen Jie made 124 films through bootlegging, with illegal gains of more than 1.035 million RMB; Lu gained more than 5.36 million RMB from illegal sale of pirated films. In September 2020, the Intermediate People’s Court of Yangzhou City sentenced Ma to a fixed-term imprisonment of six years and imposed a fine of 5.5 million RMB for the crime of copyright infringement; sentenced Ma Song to a fixed-term imprisonment of four years with a fine of 600,000 RMB; sentenced Wen Jie to a fixed-term imprisonment of four years and a fine of 1.2 million RMB; sentenced Lu to a fixed-term imprisonment of five years with a fine of 5.5 million yuan; and recovering illegal gains. The People’s Court of Yizheng City rendered judgments for 24 offline persons and their agents who participated in the dissemination of infringement for the crime of copyright infringement.
Comment: In recent years, the problem of film piracy in cinemas has attracted wide public attention, and the relevant law enforcement departments have taken strict measures to strengthen the protection of film copyright and crack down on film piracy and illegal distribution in cinemas, successively cracked a number of major cases regarding film piracy in cinemas and captured a number of criminal suspects. This case was the source of a network for the HD bootlegging and illegal sale of films for the Spring Festival release, and the case handling departments have smashed the “ghost machines” that had been hidden for years, effectively deterred criminals and further purified the film copyright ecology in cinemas.
4. “2-22” case of case of selling infringing and pirated books in Jiangsu Huai’an
In February 2019, according to the evidence provided in the rightsholder’s complaint, the Comprehensive Law Enforcement Branch of Jiangsu Huai’an Cultural Market and the public security department investigated this case. It was found upon investigation that from 2017 to 2019, Wang purchased 68 infringing and pirated books and sold 930,475 books for sale without the permission of the copyright owner. Wang also authorized Li to print 59 books and sold 929,314 books of infringing and pirated books, transport them to the warehouse in Beijing and Huai’an that he rented, and then sell them through the Internet. The revenue from book sales was more than 90 million RMB. In November 2020, the Intermediate People’s Court of Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province sentenced the two defendants to a fine of 500,000 RMB each for the crime of copyright infringement; sentenced Wang to a fixed-term imprisonment of four years with a fine of 3 million RMB; sentenced Li to a fixed-term imprisonment of three years and six months and imposed a fine of 2.6 million yuan; sentenced the other defendants to fixed-term imprisonment with probation and a fine.
Comment: This case is a typical case of illegal printing, storage, and sale of pirated books. The criminals covered up their infringement acts by purchasing a small number of genuine books through regular channels and selling them in pirated and mixed genuine versions through e-commerce platforms. There were a large number of infringing and pirated books, covering many types such as novels, picture books, teaching aids and children’s books, with adverse social impact. The investigation and handling of this case fully reflected the policy guidance of strict protection and achieved good case-handling effects.
5. 0791DJ Music Network case of infringement on copyright in musical works in Jiangxi Nanchang
In December 2018, according to relevant evidence, the cultural law enforcement department of Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, in collaboration with the public security organ, investigated this case. Upon investigation, it was determined that Gong operated “0791DJ Music Network,” and downloaded a large number of music works on the Internet without the permission of the copyright owner. Gong provided online streaming and downloading service, and the number of hits was over 18.81 million. In November 2020, the People’s Court of Qingshanhu District, Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province sentenced Gong to a fixed-term imprisonment of three years and imposed a fine of 60,000 RMB for the crime of copyright infringement.
Comment: This case involves large quantities of infringements and difficulties in investigation and collection of evidence. The public security department formed a special task force together with the copyright administrative law enforcement department, and copyright law enforcement officers participated in the whole process of case investigation and handling and continuously strengthened case handling. It is a successful case for promoting the consistency between the “Two Laws” [Copyright Law and Criminal Law] and improving law enforcement efficiency.
6. “5-21” copyright infringement case in Shandong Jining
In May 2019, according to the evidence in a complaint made by the right holder Pearson, the Comprehensive Law Enforcement Branch of Culture and Tourism of Jining City, Shandong Province, jointly with the public security organs at the levels of Jining City and Central District, conducted investigation and handling of this case. It was found upon investigation that Zheng, person-in-charge of the Aibei International Children’s English Training Institution in Jining City, entrusted Liu of Jining Shuangxing Plate Printing Co., Ltd. to print 72,012 copies of infringing and pirated products such as the Aibei International Children’s English, and sold 64,824 copies of pirated products through the network without the permission of the copyright owner, with the illegal business turnover of more than 4.03 million RMB. In December 2020, the People’s Court of Jiaxiang County, Jining City, Shandong Province sentenced Zheng to a fixed-term imprisonment of four years and a fine of one million RMB for the crime of copyright infringement; imposed a fine of 200,000 RMB on Jining Shuangxing Plate Printing Co., Ltd; sentenced Liu to probation and a fine of 200,000 RMB, and recovered illegal gains of 100,000 yuan.
Comments: The “Sword Web 2020” campaign focuses on online education special rectification, vigorously rectifying the copyright infringement and piracy incidents existing in online education and training, and severely cracking down on the acts of selling pirated online courses and pirated publications through the internet. This case is a typical case regarding infringement upon copyright in training textbooks, and the work involved in this case involves a foreign right holder with a relatively high illegal business income. The investigation and handling of these cases in accordance with the law highlight China’s firm position on strictly protecting intellectual property rights and are of great significance in maintaining the copyright order of the education and training market and building up copyright protection awareness.
7. Case of Wang producing and selling works of fine art with counterfeited authorship in Guizhou
According to the arrangements of the Ministry of Public Security for overall planning and directing the investigation and handling of a series of cases involving the production and trafficking of counterfeit calligraphy and paintings, nine criminal gangs involved in the production and trafficking of counterfeit calligraphy and paintings have been smashed in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu and other places, over 3,000 counterfeit calligraphy and paintings, and over 500 counterfeit family seals, and over 100 million RMB of assets involved have been seized. In particular, it was found that Wang and other persons counterfeited a large amount of calligraphy and art works signed by Li Keran, Li Kuchan, Wu Zuoren, Qi Baishi, Huang Zhou, Qigong and other famous artists and sent them to auction houses or directly for sale, with the amount of involved in this case being more than 30 million RMB. In September 2020, the Intermediate People’s Court of Zunyi City, Guizhou Province, sentenced Wang and other 10 persons to a fixed-term imprisonment of ranging from 1.5 years to six years and imposed fines ranging from 180,000 to 26,910,000 RMB for the crime of copyright infringement. In December 2020, the Higher People’s Court of Guizhou Province made a final judgment and commuted Wang’s imprisonment for five years with a fine of 13.5 million RMB.
Comment: Rampant production and sale of fake and shoddy products in the calligraphy and painting market severely disturbed the normal order of the cultural market and impaired the lawful rights and interests of the right holders and consumers of calligraphy and paintings. The successful handling of this case has deterred the crimes of manufacturing and trafficking counterfeit calligraphy and paintings, purified the artwork market environment, protected the lawful rights and interests of copyright owners, and accumulated experience in crime application, evidence collection, identification methods, identification standards and damages determination, which is of reference significance for the handling of similar cases. Zunyi City Procuratorate was awarded the Golden Award for Copyright 2020 (Protection Award) jointly issued by the National Copyright Administration and the World Intellectual Property Organization for the case.
8. Hubei 91 Resources Series Website Copyright Infringement Case
In September 2018, according to evidence referred by the State Copyright Bureau, the copyright administrative law enforcement department of Xishui County, Huanggang City, Hubei Province, jointly with the public security authority, investigated this case. It was found upon investigation that without permission from the copyright owner, Li and other persons collected a large number of infringing films and television programs from the Internet, spread them widely through the website of operation resources, and made illegal profits through advertisements. The Xishui Police detected more than 500 suspected infringing movie and TV websites. In November 2020, the People’s Court of Xishui County sentenced Li to a fixed-term imprisonment of four years and imposed a fine of 450,000 yuan for the crime of copyright infringement; sentenced the other 15 to imprisonment and a fine.
Comment: This is a typical case of cracking down on pirated television and film resource websites. The number of infringing websites involved in cases is large, the majority of which are located overseas with servers, and the criminal suspects are located in nine provinces and municipalities and operate in teams through the Internet, with strong concealment and wide dissemination of infringement. The successful investigation and handling of this case is a typical case of strengthening the connection of the two laws, and it has a strong deterrent effect on combating syndicated infringement crimes.
9. Fujian case of production and sale of infringed and pirated versions of child educational supplements
Since April 2018, according to the evidence from the complaints filed by right holders, the Copyright Bureau of Fujian Province has organized the copyright administrative law enforcement departments of Ningde, Nanping, Putian, Sanming, Quanzhou, and other regions to investigate and handle a series of piracy cases of teaching aids to young children, and has filed six cases for investigation and punishment. In January 2019, the copyright law enforcement department and the public security department of Sanming City arrested five persons involved in this case and seized over 80,000 pirated teaching aids for infants on the spot with a total value of 2.779 million RMB. It was found that the gang illegally printed and sold 138,000 pirated infant teaching aids and made illicit profits of more than 1 million RMB. In March 2020, the Intermediate People’s Court of Sanming City sentenced Zhuang and other four persons to fixed-term imprisonment of five years to probation for the crime of copyright infringement, and imposed a total fine of 1.68 million RMB and recovered illegal gains of more than 1.25 million RMB. In August 2020, the Copyright Bureau of Quanzhou City found that the series of pirated teaching aids again appeared in the market, and seized 32,243.35 RMB of illegal business income of Hu from selling the pirated teaching aids for infants, and the illegal proceeds were 5,794.75 RMB. In November 2020, the Copyright Bureau of Quanzhou Municipality lawfully imposed an administrative penalty of 171,200 RMB on Hu. By the end of 2020, this series of cases had resulted in three criminal judgments and three administrative punishments, and seven persons had been sentenced to imprisonment ranging from probation to up five years, with the accumulated amount of fines and recovered illegal income totaling over 3,201,800 RMB.
Comment: This series of cases is a typical case of strengthening cross-regional and cross-department law enforcement cooperation. This series of cases are intertwined with each other in multiple locations, covering the entire link of production, printing, and sales of pirated teaching aids. The number of infringements is large, the case value is high, the cross-regional, and social impact is bad. In the process of investigation and handling of the case, the copyright administrative law enforcement department dug deeply into the evidence of the case, the public security organs actively intervened, the judicial organs make quick trials and judgments in accordance with the law, and are closely connected across regions and multiple departments. They have severely cracked down on the entire chain of infringement and piracy, and are strengthening the two laws. It has set a model for convergence and regional law enforcement cooperation.
10. Case of infringement upon copyright of photographic works by Shanghai Xiguang Network Technology Co., Ltd.
In July 2020, the Law Enforcement Division of the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism, acting on tip-offs from complaints, investigated the case. It was found upon investigation that from December 2019 to February 2020, Shanghai Xiguang Network Technology Co., Ltd. disseminated 257 photos of China Super League (CSL) football matches to the public through the website operated by it without the permission of the copyright owner. In December 2020, the Enforcement Division of Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism imposed an administrative penalty of 150,000 RMB on the company.
Comments: The Sword Net 2020 campaign has made it a priority to further standardize the order of copyright dissemination in the photo market. This case is a typical case of implementing the arrangements for the special campaign and strengthening the copyright protection of photographic works, and has played a positive role in strengthening the media copyright protection by rapidly stopping infringement through administrative punishment.