It’s the Dog's Fault?

[Judge Dongtao Li]

The Facts

The plaintiff and the defendant are .com companies.

In May 1999, after registering its domain name, the plaintiff signed a contract with the defendant.

According to the contract, the defendant would provide the plaintiff 20 MB of disk storage space on its Internet server. In return, the plaintiff would pay the defendant a monthly usage fee.

The plaintiff used this disk space to establish a website online under its own domain name offering information on pets under the name “Information Harbor for Pets”. In this way, the plaintiff published copyrightable materials about pet food, pet medicine and pet marriages, etc.

In June 2000, the defendant also began to offer a column called “Pets” on its website.

The contents of “Pets” were identical to those available on the plaintiff’s “Information Harbor for Pets”, including some typographical mistakes.

For example, there were two columns designed for dogs and cats misnamed Wang-wang Supermarket for Cats and Miao-miao Supermarket for Dogs.  This mistake originally appeared on plaintiff’s website and also occurred on defendant’s website.

The right names should have been Wang-wang Supermarket for Dogs and Miao-miao Supermarket for Cats.

The only difference between the two pet information websites was the designation of webpages.

Moreover, there was a logo “Old Editions” on the defendant’s website providing a link with the plaintiff’s website.

The plaintiff therefore sued the defendant for copyright infringement. 

The defendant argued that the copyright infringement was not established, but it also deleted the identical contents from its website quickly after the case was filed.

Opinion

The court held that in this case, according to the contract agreed to the plaintiff and the defendant, the plaintiff rented 20MB of disk space on the defendant’s Internet server to establish a website called “Information Harbor for Pets”.

In return for this, the defendant received a monthly user’s fee, not the plaintiff’s copyright. 

Without the plaintiff’s permission, the defendant has no right to republish those copyrightable materials on another page even though defendant provided storage space to store the copyrighted materials.

Therefore, the copyright infringement was established.

Note

The storage space of an Internet server may be divided into different parts for different users.

Each user can operate its part under a domain name and a URL independently from the server, which makes up for a lack of Internet servers online.

Plaintiff could have also brought this case under a breach of contract.