November 2007 saw five Hollywood studios including Columbia and Paramount Pictures bring a claim in the Shanghai courts against Eastday and Jeboo for copyright infringement in respect of thirteen films owned by the studios. The studios allege that Eastday, operators of a chain of Chinese internet cafés, installed Video-On-Demand software created by Beijing-based Jeboo. Jeboo’s software allowed Eastday’s customers to access such films as “Pirates of the Caribbean”. The studios have demanded an immediate stop to the infringement, an official apology and over US$430,000 in compensation.
China has taken great leaps forward in relation to the enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights since its accession to the WIPO Treaty. The law in relation to copyright infringement in China is now broadly similar to that in the UK. It is unlawful in both the UK and China to access or broadcast copyright material, such as films, using third party software without a licence from the respective copyright owner.
If the studios are able to demonstrate that Jeboo did not have a licence in respect of the 13 films both Jeboo and Eastday may be held liable for copyright infringement - Jeboo on the basis that it developed software that enabled the infringement to occur and Eastday as an unlicensed broadcaster.
The case reinforces the message that users of copyright material must obtain the correct licence before exploiting such material. Users may acquire authorisation directly from copyright owners or the appropriate copyright collection societies. It is also vital to verify that any third-party software suppliers have acquired the necessary licences to avoid falling foul of copyright law.