China Copyright Protections
China copyrights without registration
Copyright stands out from other intellectual property rights for the protections it enjoys without registration, including in China. For trademarks, the only pathway to protection for an unregistered mark in China is by meeting the narrow definition of a “well-known trademark.” By contrast, even works created outside of China (in countries party to the Berne Convention) enjoy copyright protection in the country, without the need for registration.
China copyrights with registration
This said, there are good reasons for registering copyright in China in some cases. As a practical matter, enforcement of rights will be a lot harder (if not impossible) if the copyright owner lacks a Chinese registration. This true both in the context of government authorities and e-commerce platforms such as Taobao. Complicating matters is the fact that some countries, such as the UK, do not have a copyright registry.
In general, it is much more difficult to get Chinese authorities to conduct enforcement actions based on copyright than on trademark rights. Rightsholders who have discovered this for themselves may be thinking, why bother with copyrights at all?
First, there are products that do not really lend themselves to trademark protection. For example, imagine you manufacture stuffed animals. Your genuine products have a label attached to them that bears your trademark. However, a savvy and/or sloppy counterfeiter might make a version of the stuffed animal without that label. As a result, their fake product does not violate your trademark. Even if you have registered as a trademark an image of the stuffed animal, the stuffed animal itself is not a mark. By contrast, the stuffed animal itself can potentially be protected using copyright.
In addition, copyright registrations can help plug gaps left by trademarks that could not be registered, for example because of similarity to an existing mark. It is also worth noting that an existing copyright can be grounds to object to a trademark registration.
How to register a copyright in China
Though copyright protection exists automatically for works created in China, registering it offers significant advantages, especially for foreign companies. Here’s how to register copyright in China:
- Application form
- Work identification materials (e.g., manuscript, software code, recording)
- Proof of authorship (e.g., contract, work log)
- Power of attorney (if applying through an agent)
- Fee payment confirmation
- Submit the required documents to the Copyright Protection Center of China (CPCC) or local Copyright Bureau.
- Wait for review and approval, which may take several months.
- Upon approval, receive a copyright registration certificate.
- For more details, refer to the CPCC website: https://www.ccopyright.com/en/mobile/
Differences in copyright protection between China and the United States and European Union
Copyright protection differs in key aspects between China and other major countries like the United States and the European Union:
- Duration of protection: Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years in China, compared to 70 years in the US and EU.
- Moral rights: China recognizes moral rights, which give the author the right to control how their work is used, even after it has been transferred to someone else. This is not explicitly recognized in the US and EU.
- Fair use: The concept of fair use, which allows for limited use of copyrighted material without permission, is not explicitly defined in Chinese law. This can make it more difficult to determine what constitutes infringement.
- Registration requirements: While copyright protection exists automatically in China and the EU, registration is required in the US to file a lawsuit for infringement.
Have you had luck enforcing a foreign copyright in China? What are some of your success stories using copyright protection as part of your China toolkit?