A Case of Website Homepages: Website Homepage is Copyrightable in China

By Dongtao Li, LL.M., Judge of The People’s Court of Haidian District, Beijing, China.

(Posted on January 6, 2011. This article was previously published in Judge Li's book Dongtao on Law.)

This is a case of a copyright dispute of website homepage designs. The plaintiff was a well-known Chinese Internet Service Provider (ISP), and the defendant was a small company also offering online services to users. At the end of 1998, the plaintiff found that the homepage of the defendant’s website was similar to that of its own website (as indicated by the picture: on the left was the homepage of the plaintiff, and on the right was the homepage of the defendant).

The plaintiff sued the defendant for copyright infringement. In response, the defendant argued that the copyright infringement was not established because the plaintiff’s homepage was not copyrightable. After reviewing the evidence and relevant laws, the trial court held that the copyright infringement was established. The court held that a homepage is the first page on a World Wide Web (WWW), which acts as the starting point for navigation to a web site. It is the primary web page for an individual, a software application, or an organization.

To be original, a web page can't just be factual data, such as pure text characters or alphanumerical characters. Web pages, such as the homepage of the plaintiff, may contain colors, words and logos. Though sometimes some colors, words and logos may be in the public domain, if they are specifically combined into a physical form, bringing a sense of beauty, that’s the core of originality. The Court thus found for the plaintiff.

Helpful Information Chinese copyright law (2001) (Chinese version | English version).

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