Features of Chinese Copyright Law

[Arthur Tan-Chi Yuan]

Based on Judge Li’s article in the featured column Cyberlaw Lens, Chinese copyright law recognizes a protectable right in website pages. In the “Website Homepage” case, the defendant asserted that the alleged homepage included many commonly used elements that should not be copyrightable, even on a website homepage. The court found that the defendant copied plaintiff's layout, color, and texts to provide an overall identical look as the plaintiff's homepage. In addition, the court further found that defendant copied two logos or expressions created by the plaintiff: "最新推出" ("Now Available") and "看中国搜索引擎" ("Look China Search Engine"). As such, the trial court found for the plaintiff.

Chinese copyright law (2001) (Chinese version | English version) states in Article 3 that copyrightable works include creative works of “literature, art, science, social science and technical engineering.” The court did not hold specifically whether a website homepage is considered as a “literary work” under a specific category within the meaning of the Copyright Law. Instead, the court found that the website homepage includes a combination of color, text and graphics in a tangible expression (i.e., it can be printed), and such expression is concrete (i.e., it is saved on a storage medium of a web server). Furthermore, due to the nature of the Internet, the homepage could be easily disseminated; online users may access the homepage anywhere on the web and may print the homepage conveniently. As such, the court established that the homepage is a copyrightable work.

As this case was decided in 1999, this was instructional for future cases. Furthermore, according to Article 10, section 4 of the Chinese copyright law, the copyright owner is entitled to the right of completeness or integrity of the copyrighted work; a right to protect copyrighted work against distortion and mutilation. In this case, the court found that defendant also violates the plaintiff’s right under this section. This is a feature of the Chinese copyright law that is not found in the US Copyright Act of 1976. Moreover, the trial court devoted a good portion of its decision resolving disputes between the parties on the issue of ownership of plaintiff's homepage design. Based on court's finding, plaintiff was credited with its foresight of keeping and providing evidence that showed the ownership of the homepage design and the date thereof prior to defendant's work. Evidentiary support is important in most legal proceedings, especially in China, as there is no discovery mechanism as in the American civil procedures.