China’s Online Gaming Industry
China’s online gaming industry is one of the largest in the world, fueled by a vast user base and advancements in mobile technology. However, China’s regulatory environment is stringent, with the government seemingly always imposing stricter controls on gaming content, licensing, and even usage.
Despite these challenges, the potential for foreign gaming companies remains immense, provided they navigate the IP protection landscape effectively to safeguard their games from rampant copycat versions prevalent in the market.
China Online Gaming IP
China online gaming IP is a significant concern for foreign companies involved with online gaming in China.
China presents a wealth of opportunities for foreign gaming companies, but (and this is true of pretty much every IP-laden industry), it also presents substantial risks. See Foreign Access to China’s Online Gaming Industry.
This post outlines how online gaming companies can safeguard their IP in China via China IP registration processes. TWhile our law firm represents many online gaming companies, we’ve been hesitant to dedicate a post specifically to this industry as the legal landscape isn’t markedly different from other industries. But because we’ve lately been getting emails requesting we do so, we are doing so now.
The big thing to know about China IP laws as they relate to online gaming is that there really are no IP laws specific to online gaming. China’s IP laws relevant to online gaming are the same trademark and copyright and patent and IP licensing and trade secret and unfair competition laws we constantly write about here. Our China IP lawyers generally view the IP work we do for our gaming company clients as similar to what we do for our movie, music, software, publishing, and toy company clients.
Why Registering Your Game’s Copyrights in China is Crucial
As is true in most of the world, you do not need to register a copyright in China to have a copyright in China. This often leads companies not to bother registering their copyrights.
You cannot pursue a copyright infringement lawsuit in China without a registered copyright. Foreign companies too often think this means there is no real need for them to register their copyrights in China, figuring that if anyone infringes on their copyright, they will register it and then sue. The problem is that securing a copyright registration in China typically takes around 12 months.
The Problems With Not Copyrighting Your Game in China
If a Chinese company is violating your copyright and you cannot sue for a year, it becomes difficult to stop the Chinese company from infringing. You can write a cease-and-desist letter, but it will not be very powerful because you will not be able to cite to any registered copyright and the infringing company will figure it has another year or before it needs to worry. This delay is particularly problematic for gaming companies because in a year their game may no longer even exist in its previous incarnation.
Real Life Examples Regarding China Gaming Copyrights
The following two real life examples show both the benefits of having a China copyright and the risks of not having one.
Example 1: A European gaming company retained my law firm to proactively register its trademarks and copyrights in China before it launched its video game there. When a Chinese company attempted to copy their game, we wrote a cease and desist letter and the Chinese company completely backed down. The European company’s ability to quickly enforce its IP rights prevented substantial revenue loss and protected its brand reputation.
Example 2: Many years ago, my law firm represented a well-known US-based game developer that came to us because a Chinese company had replicated their game’s characters and storyline. Despite having a strong case, the lack of a registered copyright in China so delayed the legal process, that it did not make sense even to pursue it.
Steps to Register Your Game’s Copyrights in China
Registering copyrights for video games in China is much like doing so in the United States or the EU. Because of this, when our China IP lawyers are tasked with securing video game copyrights for China, they usually track what has already been done for the client in the United States or the EU.
China’s Copyright Registration Process
Registering video games in China usually consists of the following steps, aligned with China’s special software registration rules:
Step 1: Identify all copyrightable elements of your game including source code, artwork, music, and storyline.
Step 2: Prepare the necessary documentation as per China’s IP registration guidelines.
Step 3: Submit the registration application to the Chinese copyright registration authority.
Step 4: Await confirmation of registration, which typically takes around 12 months.
The normal strategy for video games is to treat each character as a work of art. If there are special locations, these are also treated as works of art. Our China copyright lawyers typically bundle up all artwork and register that in one filing. The exact physical item sent to the Chinese copyright registration authority depends on the nature of the work. China copyright registrations are not expensive, and it is better to register too much rather than too little.
Copyright laws usually come into play when you are talking about “content” and when you are talking about online gaming, you are essentially talking about content. Online games are typically rife with copyrightable content, including the characters in the game, the music, the speaking, the storyline, and the animation. Oh, and of course the code.
China Online Gaming Trademark Protections
As regular readers of this blog know, we are big fans of registering China trademarks. It is bad enough if someone copies your game, but if they can legally give it and its characters the same names you gave them, it becomes nearly impossible for you to distinguish your game from the copy.
Enforcing trademark rights in China is generally easier than enforcing copyright rights and that’s why trademarks should always be considered for the name of the game and the names of the characters. The key thing you should know about China trademarks is that they usually take around ten months to secure. This means you should file for your China trademarks as soon as you have an idea of what you will be calling your game and/or its characters.
China Online Gaming Patent Protections
Patents are still pretty uncommon in China for online games, but there are instances where securing one will make sense. It really just depends.
Protecting your gaming IP from China requires you think and act ahead.
And as is true for pretty much all industries in China, the biggest benefit in your securing China trademarks and copyrights and patents will likely not so much be the ability to prevail in a lawsuit against an infringer, but to make potential infringers think twice before copying you. If given the choice between copying your game that is loaded with registered China IP protections or copying a game with few or no China IP protections, the infringer is more likely to pass your game by, which is exactly what you want.