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New copyright plans in China criticised

By | Published on Wednesday 18 April 2012


A revamp of the copyright system in China is being criticised by rights owners both in the country and beyond, with fears the proposals remove too many of a copyright owner’s traditional controls over the works they create, buy or invest in.

Of course, copyrights – while recognised in China – have traditionally been very hard to enforce there in both the physical products and digital domains, though in recent years the Chinese government, responding to pressure from trade officials in Western governments, have been trying to crack down on piracy to an extent. China’s National Copyright Administration says its new proposals are part of continued efforts to crack down on piracy, but many rights owners feel they will be detrimental.

From what we can see via a Reuters report, the NCA is proposing a wide-reaching compulsory licensing scenario, which would obligate rights owners to licence in a wide range of situations at government-set royalty rates, with only a three-month exclusive-use period. This would remove a rights owner’s ability to negotiate more favourable licensing terms, and to veto the use of their work.

Compulsory licensing is not unprecedented, and is found elsewhere in the world, though not at the kind of level seemingly proposed by the Chinese authority. The proposals first emerged last month, and the NCA has been consulting interested parties for the last few weeks, and will do so until the end of the month. Though the proposals do not discuss what the royalty rates would be for those uses of music covered by compulsory licensing, nor, seemingly, how such royalties would be set and reviewed in the future, surely both crucial bits of information in judging the merits of the NCA’s grand plan.

Though many rights owners in China feel that whatever the royalty rates, the proposals are untenable. Reuters quote one Shanghai-based lawyer, Elliot Papageorgiou, as saying the new rules would be “a huge derogation” for music (and particularly music publishing) rights owners. He added: “[The NCA is] trying to say: up until now you haven’t been able to enforce your rights. We can help with that. But it’s taking away so much more”.

The major music companies, which see the potential for huge growth in the Chinese market, where promoting and monetising non-domestic talent has traditionally been tricky, told the news agency they were also reviewing the NCA’s proposals and would respond via the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry.