Copyright Protection in China

Topics: Copyright Law

Historical Development

1949-1975: Weak rights and management

During this period, the socialist planned economy with the absolute public ownership made the international communication and exchanges relatively simple and closed. It is difficult for the private property rights system, the basis of copyright protection, to exist at that time. Most dynamic intellectuals and communication agencies belong to state institutions, which did not pursue industrial interests. Therefore, modern copyright law and copyright protection systems are naturally absent.

However, management activities similar to the modern author’s rights exist objectively, and the core activity is the management of the author’s remuneration, which is considered to be the early form of contemporary Chinese copyright management.

Remuneration management means paying for intellectuals’ labor, rather than the distribution of industrial interests. And the remuneration always was reduced and limited. The main group of management is the administrative department of culture, publishing, broadcasting, as well as some public organizations. It was the time that the concept of copyright was first proposed and some relevant policies about copyright protection had been made.

1976-1989: The establishment of private rights and legal system

During this period, private rights were gradually established, and the role of knowledge and intellectuals was confirmed in terms of social development. Also, at that time, the commodity economy and market economy were gradually legalized, so the economic value of created works begin to be recognized. The communication institution is still dominated by the state-owned department, and the consciousness of private interests is not strong

The core impetus for the construction of the copyright system is that the country’s strategy was changed.

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President Deng formulated the country’s strategy — opening up to the world and integrating into the world. After the strategy was implemented in every aspect of the country, China had made a large number of agreements with other national organizations and countries. It also spawned the drafting of China’s ‘Copyright Law.’ With the implementation of the law, management activities focusing on remuneration was continually developed. Some arguments about whether we should establish a special copyright management institution were triggered. For example, some people have proposed that copyright legislation will bring huge economic pressure to the educational and scientific research departments. In short, these controversies have laid a foundation for the establishment of the copyright system.

In the end, copyright administrative agencies such as the National Copyright Administration, which focuses on “protecting the rights of authors”, were established. What’s more, China officially joined the World Intellectual Property Organization to promote copyright management.

1990-2000: The new era of copyright management

During this period, the establishment of a socialist market economic system made a great effort on the cultural economy and the modern copyright system. The strategy of China’s globalization had greatly promoted the process of copyright legal construction. Although the nature of the communication werewas werehad not been changed, the construction of the copyright management system has shown “stunning speed”.

In 1990, the Chinese ‘Copyright Law’ promulgated, which announced the arrival of a new era. Relevant implementation regulations and supporting laws were successively formulated. China signed three international copyright conventions, such as the Universal Copyright Convention. At that time, there are three-dimensional management divided — administrative management, Judicial management, and social management. They had different responsibilities. Administrative management took the dual responsibility of copyright affairs management and law enforcement. Judicial management focused on hearing and investigating major infringement cases. Social management was mainly responsible for intermediary services and industry self-discipline. The core of the entire management is about rights protection.

2001-2009: The reform and development of the copyright management system

During this period, with the socialist market economic system deep improved, the cultural industry started to flourish. In particular, the communication institutions were transferred from state-owner into market orientation, which admitted the private interests of the copyright industry. The social status of copyright law was more consolidated. The rapid development of information dissemination technology had led to changes in the structure of copyright protection. Joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) had also brought enormous challenges to intellectual property management. All of this required that the copyright management system must be reformed to keep pace with the times.

In 2001, China joined into WTO and comprehensively revised the ‘Copyright Law’. It had developed a large number of laws and regulations to adapt to the needs of copyright protection. In terms of management philosophy, there were some changes in three-dimensional management. As for administrative management, the government integrated it with intellectual property administrative management. The focus of judicial management reform was to combine three trials (civil affairs, administrative affairs, and criminal affairs). Social management reform focused on the establishment of social management institutions and mechanisms. In practice, besides strengthening copyright protection, the copyright management began to publicity copyright culture and support the development of related industries.

2010-2018: Perfection of the copyright management system

During this period, the value of copyright-related industries was close to that of developed countries. The modern property rights system was established, and the foundation of copyright politics was consolidated. With the development of the Internet, copyright management was confronted with a great number of opportunities and challenges. In terms of the law system, the second revision of the “Copyright Law” was promulgated in 2010. Based on the was needa needs, it revised and improved the original laws and regulations.

In terms of management philosophy, the position of copyright management had been further confirmed, and the reform of the intellectual property management system had also become an important part of comprehensive deepening reform. The administrative management had not been changed much. As for judicial management, while advancing the three trials, it established some pilots of intellectual property courts. The core of social management reform was to empower industries, that is, it gave more space to social forces in the promotion of copyright.



Problem Description

Why the problem of China’s copyright infringement is so serious? In the face of the law, what makes it possible to lead people to infringe the works of others? Is it conscious or unconscious? In another survey on public awareness of copyright protection in digital cultural resources, there is a question–“Do you understand the copyright provisions”, only 3.75% of people chose “very understanding”, the proportion of “know some” and “little understood” was 42.6% and 42.83%, it was unfortunate that 10.82% people chose “do not understand”. The survey results of this question directly prove the public’s lack of awareness of copyright protection, which needs to be improved. Otherwise, it is easy to make a copyright infringement in the absence of awareness. Another question is whether you would initiatively focus on the copyright notice or copyright tips of the public digital cultural resources. 68.21% of people said “yes” or “sometimes”, while 31.79% of people said “no”, which means that they would not be concerned about the copyright notice. Such a high proportion of people ignoring the significance of copyright will leave more hidden dangers of infringement behaviors in use.

To accurately understand the status of copyright awareness among adolescents both in China and the U.S., there is another survey questionnaire made in 2012. According to the report, there is a different preference for pirated products between Chinese teens and American teens (Yao Linqin, 2012). As for pirated books, game software, computer program software, and movie discs, the proportion of Chinese students who choose the “never” options is much higher than that of American students. For example, the proportion of American students who choose “never” for pirated books is as high as 86%. However, the proportion of Chinese students is only 18%. These data show that the legal consumption of copyright products by American teenagers is far from that of China.

Therefore, according to the survey’s results above, I propose a more narrow and specific problem—The main reason for the serious phenomenon of copyright infringement in China is the lack of awareness among enterprises and people.

Basic Information

Public copyright awareness is the basis for a country to effectively implement the copyright system and promote copyright protection. Due to the different cultures and traditions of each country, public copyright awareness of all countries is also different. Many elements can cause this difference, such as legal systems, market mechanisms, and so on. China is a country where copyright protection is not yet mature, and the Chinese public is a group with a weak copyright awareness compared with developed countries in Europe and America. Therefore, the first step for China to solve serious infringements is to raise public awareness of copyright literacy and protection.

There is some other basic information about the problem. The first thing is unconscious groups, which include the copyright owners who lack awareness of protecting their interests and rights, the copyright infringers who lack awareness of complying with the legal system, and the public people who lack awareness of purchasing the intellectual property and reporting the violations.

Interested Parties

Interested Parties Costs Benefits


More human input

Fewer cases

A positive industry environment

Copyright Owner more innovative products More economic benefits, more customers, improved reputation

No Copyright holders No income, more independent innovation products

Public people Spend more, less free access to resources, decentralized resources, quality assurance products

The second thing is to find out the factors causing the unconscious behaviors

Long-term Habits

From a historical perspectivesinnovativeperspective, the Chinese have a long-standing inherent habit, of using resources without money. According to a survey covering 28 provinces of the country, published by Wuhan University Quality Development Strategy Research Institute, about 90% of consumers in China have purchased pirated books, audio-visual products, and program software through various channels (2012). Most respondents indicated that pirated products provide the same experience as genuine products and cost less. If people bought pirated products in illegal ways, they would not go back to buy the same genuine products. The results of similar investigations are exactly the opposite in the United States. Choosing pirated products or genuine products, most Americans will buy genuine copies (Yao Linqing&Liu Dandan&Chen Bo, 2012). Therefore, we have to admit that China’s public prefers buying pirated products, and copyright protection awareness has not been established in the minds of the Chinese public.

The Chinese public’s free preference for cultural and artistic works resources is proof of the lack of copyright awareness. Not only do pirate manufacturers develop illegal websites and steal resources because of commercial interests, but also many “enthusiasm” consumers who get cheap resources from these illegal websites help to spread on various online platforms, and actively introduce the ways and platforms for piracy to other Internet users. The pirated e-books give an example. At present, many platforms are selling pirated e-books at a lower price in China. When you search for the keyword ‘free download of e-books’ on Baidu, there will be many websites, from sharing platforms to specialized websites, from e-book forums to e-book stickers. Piracy of e-books spread on a large scale on Chinese websites. We have to admit that free preferences are ingrained. Although the illegal website provides the resources for e-books, the fundamental problem is the piracy habits that Chinese people have formed for a long time. If we did not change our habits, the problem would never be solved thoroughly.

Insufficient Education

From a cultural perspective, China has a large population with an uneven level of education. Some people are still not self-conscious about copyright protection, saving money from free resources, which encourages and connives infringement behaviors. At present, China only conducts copyright publicity through advertisements and activities on April 26th – World Intellectual Property Day. However, the effect of such short-term centralized publicity is far from enough to raise public awareness and respect for copyright. People who often use copyright-related works in their daily consumption may know a little about copyright.

Weak Law Enforcement

From a political perspective, although the copyright law system is perfect, the dynamics of enforcement are not enough and the process of enforcement is difficult and inefficient. The perception of copyright infringement reflects whether the Nationals have a deeper understanding of copyright awareness. According to a report on the investigation of copyright awareness among Chinese and American youths (Yao Linqing&Liu Dandan&Chen Bo, 2012), there is a big difference between Chinese and American youth regarding the question of whether copyright infringement is a crime. The proportion of Chinese adolescents who are not considered to be guilty is more than twice that of the United States, and the proportion of American teenagers who believe that infringement is an unacceptable criminal act is more than twice that of China. Most Americans believe that infringements are terrible behaviors, so they consciously control their behaviors and avoid the infringement. Nevertheless, copyright infringement is more likely to be tolerated by society in China because of the weak legal awareness of the public.

In the 17th century, western developed countries had begun the process of intellectual property legislation, which is earlier than China’s two or three hundred years. So far, they have spent more than 100 years promoting the protection of intellectual property and have completed the process from weak protection to strong protection. However, for China, it took only 10 years from just establishing the copyright law in 1990 to fully revise the law in 2001 because of the accession of WTO, which means that even if China has completed its intellectual property protection to a higher level in terms of institutions, there is still a great shortage in the experience of applying the system and the awareness of protecting the rights.



Legal Perspective

In terms of justice, effective ways to alleviate serious phenomena are to improve the regulations of laws and to increase the punishment for violations.

First, we should adjust and gradually improve the current laws. The rapid development of the media and the continuous upgrading of communication technologies have promoted content innovation and progress. But at the same time, in this new communication environment, they also proposed new requirements for the copyright protection legal system. Unfortunately, China’s existing ‘Copyright Law’ cannot fully adapt to the new environment. For example, the word ‘rational use’ in copyright law in China means that some people who are not the copyright owner are allowed to use copyrighted works reasonably. But in fact, it is a kind of connivance for the infringers. In the traditional media era, traditional copyright relies mainly on tangible carriers to spread in a certain range. However, various information products based on new media may be decomposed, reorganized, or unsigned by others. The Copyright Law does not clearly define which works are rational. There are still many examples that are not clearly defined like this, so to make copyright protection more disciplined, we should continually revise the Copyright Law against the changing environment.

Second, we should increase the penalties for copyright infringements, so that people will worry about the serious consequences of the crime and thus dare not commit it again. Article 48 of the Copyright Law has detailed provisions on the punishment of copyright infringement: simple infringement punishment is to eliminate the impact and compensate for the loss. According to the law, the person who constitutes the crime must be investigated for criminal responsibility. According to the annual report released by the National Copyright Administration, most infringements only need to bear civil liability, and the punishment is very weak. Also, there is an unhealthy phenomenon usually occurring on the Internet information platform. When the copyright owners find their rights violated, they usually contact the network service provider privately and remind them of the infringement. According to the law, as long as the network service provider cleans up the infringing contents, they can be exempted from legal liability. Therefore, many network service providers often use this principle to occupy other creators’ works and avoid infringing liability. On the one hand, they use technological advantages to implement infringement. On the other hand, they set obstacles for the creators to safeguard their rights. For example, the network service providers may make it difficult to be connected or not clean up the infringing materials in time.

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Copyright Protection in China. (2022, Jun 30). Retrieved from

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