Heated debates have flooded Chinese social media platforms recently after the Shanghai police announced that they had arrested 14 members of Renren Film and Television Subtitling Group (Renren), a well-known fan-subtitle group for copyright infringement.
A fan-subtitling group which, as the name suggests, are a group of fans which pertain to translate a foreign film or foreign television program as opposed to an officially licensed translation done by paid professionals and subtitled into a language other than that of the original.
In relation to Renren, this group has been providing unauthorized film and TV shows obtained from overseas pirate forums to Chinese viewers for years.
Renren was founded in 2003 under the name YYeTs.com and launched as Renren Yingshi in 2006, acting as one of the pioneering Chinese subtitle sites. Although initially run by a group of devout fans sharing subtitles, the company soon developed into a for-profit streaming platform that allowed users to watch and download subtitled foreign entertainment content, subsequently becoming blacklisted by the American Film Association in the process.
Renren have attempted many different strategies in order to maintain the operation of their website amid government crackdowns across the years (e.g. Renren Meiju and Renren Video were taken down due to piracy issues) including issuing digital currency, selling hard drives containing illegally obtained video content, placing advertisements within their videos, selling memberships to the users of their site and even launching a commemorative router.
End of the Road
On February 3rd, the Shanghai police announced that after three months of careful investigation, along with the cooperation of the police in Shandong, Hubei, Guangxi and across various other areas, they have cracked the extraordinarily large trans-provincial case of copyright infringement of film and television works conducted by Renren.
All together there were a total of 3 companies involved, with 20 mobile phones and 12 computer hosts and servers seized. According to the Shanghai police report, Renren has more than 8 million registered users and published more than 20,000 films and TV works, involving more than 16 million RMB.
Officials from Shanghai police have stated that Renren hired teams of workers to translate TV shows/films for approximately 400 yuan per episode, uploaded them to their app and websites, and gained illegal profits by collecting website membership and advertising fees.
Such an act of copyright infringement will indeed lead to criminal liability in regards to Renren, as according to Article 217 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, if the amount of illegal gains is huge (illegal income of over 150,000 RMB) or if there are other especially serious circumstances (turnover of over 250,000 RMB or reproduction of films television programmes without prior consent of the copyright holder and the quantity of reproduction is 2,500 or above), he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years and shall also be fined.
Therefore, based on the information released by the Shanghai police, it seems as though Renren may be subject to severe punishment under the current law.
Strengthening of Copyright Protection in China
The Chinese legislature has recently sought a reform of the Copyright Law of the Peoples Republic of China (Copyright Law), as on November 11th, 2020, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed the latest revision to the Copyright Law (which will come into effect will take effect on June 1st, 2021) in direct response to the increasing number copyright infringement in China for digital piracy as seen in the case of Renren.
The law increases the statutory damages together with the introduction of punitive damages for serious, willful infringements, a shift of the burden of proof in judicial proceedings, further liberalization of the types of copyrightable works & a modernization of the category of “cinematographic works” (amended to “audiovisual works” and thus encompassing a broader scope).
All of these amendments are envisioned to produce a significant deterrent effect and strengthen the copyright protection in the modern Chinese marketplace.
As copyright registration in China is not mandatory, it is still advisable for rights holders to register their works with the Copyright Protection Centre of China or local Copyright Bureaus, providing a legal record of copyright ownership as well as additional legal benefits in cases of infringement.
In the unfortunate event of copyright infringement, the copyright owner may firstly file a complaint with the local copyright administration and enforcement department, requesting the enforcement of administrative measures against the infringer, which may include an order of cessation and the imposition of a fine.
Alternatively, the injured party may also bring a civil lawsuit against the copyright infringer and in cases of a criminal offence (relatively large illegal gains or other serious circumstances) there shall be an investigation for criminal liability in accordance with the law.
With the latest revision to the Copyright Law, it is safe to ascertain that the Chinese legislator is fully aware of the need for effective updating of the law in this area (first comprehensive revision of the Copyright Law in two decades), a widening of the parameters in terms of its scope and effective punishment in order to act as a deterrent to other Renrens in the marketplace.
If you have concerns in relation to your copyrighted works, effective enforcement or possible infringement, or any other related intellectual property queries, please get in touch with our professionals at firstname.lastname@example.org.