This is the final instalment of our coverage of SOTX expo. Towards the end of the second day things got a little deep, and some contentious copyright issues were brought up. This was followed by a special appearance by Hao Yun (郝云) and Song Dong Ye (宋冬野), which we won’t comment on. All we really got from the all-star panel was that Song’s career has enabled him to acquire a 300,000RMB Jeep.
Talking Copyright in the PRC
The SOTX expo featured two in-depth talks on the copyright situation over here in China. The first – Interpreting the Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China, was presented by Wenfang Ye (Associate Professor of Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication). This session was more of a breakneck-speed overview of the legislation and its historical development (imagine being dragged by your ankles through a bamboo forest in Sichuan).
The second – Protecting and Speaking Out for Music IP Rights, featured Bill Zang (Vice President of the China Audio-Video And Digital Publishing Association) and Suo Laijun (Deputy Director of the Copyright Protection Center of China). This talk allowed for more debate and reflection on issues rather than looking at the nuts and bolts of the legislation.
Rather then go into specifics we’ll stick with the big-picture issues at hand, drawing from both talks. Note that we are trying our best to simply relay what was discussed in the talks rather than adding our own skew.
Contrary to common assumptions, it seems China doesn’t lag too far behind the developed nations as far as the body of the copyright legislation is concerned. Rather, the issue lies in enforcement.
China established its first copyright laws in 1990. Following accession to the WTO these were amended to meet the required criteria for entry. The nation has “done its best” to continue working to update IP protection measures in tandem with technological developments but as is the case with most nations, the pace of innovation is outstripping legislators’ understandings of what kinds of rights are needed, and overthrowing efforts to create an effective intellectual property protection framework. Precedents are being set by digital music services, and legislators are reacting (slowly at best).
But of course the battle is waged on both sides: artists too are becoming emboldened to put their case forward. Whilst there are bodies that represent and empower artists in the West such as the Featured Artists Coalition in the UK, in China there are no formalized lobbying bodies for music artists that we are aware of. But this doesn’t mean artists haven’t taken issues into their own hands.
In 2012 a draft amendment to the Copyright Law of the PRC (中华人民共和国著作权法) was published which redefined Article 46. The redrafted article stipulated that producers could reuse or reproduce other published sound recordings after 3 months without requiring the consent of the original owner of the sound recording, so long as they report to relevant government authorities and pay “fair” compensation. Paraphrasing China Daily, the draft provided that if the copyright holder didn’t state otherwise, the royalty for such use would be collected through copyright collective management organizations.
Understandably reputable figures in the music industry including songwriter Gao Xiaosong rallied together and through collective lobbying efforts, managed to reverse the decision (although according to the panel Article 46 hasn’t been scrapped and is still under review).
The fiasco caused by Article 46 brought copyright into the limelight. Legislators and creators alike are becoming increasingly aware of the need to establish a fair and effective framework. But more importantly, there is a need to encourage more rigorous enforcement. Platforms that are enabling digital music consumption – Baidu and Xiami in particular – are benefiting from the lag between innovation and legislative overhaul.
There was talk about how a centralised ‘licensing supermarket model’ would make it easier to administer rights and collect royalties for artists. It’s not the first time such a model has been proposed either – it makes perfect sense and is technically possible. However this kind of model is only just being established in Europe, which has had a sophisticated network of collection societies operating within a pan-European licensing framework for some time.
Again, the theory is there, but implementation is a far cry away.