Facts

In October 1992 Zhe Chen (??), a romance fiction author, wrote a script titled Plum Blossom Sear («???») under the pseudonym Qiong Yao (??). Although the script was never formally published, Yi Ren Communication Co Ltd adapted it for a television drama series called Plum Blossom Sear of 21 episodes. The series premiered in Taiwan on October 13 1993 and was broadcast in mainland China on the Hu Nan television station. Its content was almost identical to the original script.

The script was also adapted into a novel of the same title. After its completion on June 30 1993, the novel was published under Chen's name, first in Taiwan on September 15 1993 and later in mainland China. The main plot of the novel was consistent with that of the script.

On June 17 2012 Zheng Yu completed a script for 20 episodes of a television drama series titled The Palace 3: The Lost Daughter («????»). The script was published under the author's name on April 8 2014 and two versions of the series were filmed:

  • the original 44 episodes that were available online; and
  • 63 episodes that were broadcast on television and premiered on the Hu Nan station on April 8 2014.

Chen brought an action against the first section of the The Palace 3: The Lost Daughter script, claiming that it constituted infringement of copyright of her Plum Blossom Sear script, despite differences in characters and plot.

Decision

The Beijing Number 3 Intermediate People's Court found that the defendant's adaptation constituted copyright infringement and ordered that:

  • the producers of the series The Palace 3: The Lost Daughter cease all reproduction, distribution and dissemination immediately;
  • Yu make a public apology to Chen on Sina, Sohu, LeTV and ifeng.com; and
  • compensation of Rmb5 million be paid to Chen to cover her economic loss and reasonable litigation costs.

The Beijing High People's Court upheld this decision.(1)

Comment

This case attracted a lot of attention as it explained the methodology and criteria for finding 'material similarity' between literary works, and instructed on how to differentiate an idea from an expression in terms of plot selection, advancement and structure. The court's decision in this case highlights the purpose of the Copyright Law to protect original works and the judiciary's policy to enhance IP protection, which is crucial to the development of culture and film.

For further information on this topic please contact Hui Huang, Paul Ranjard, Huimin Qin or Nan Jiang at Wan Hui Da Law Firm & Intellectual Property Agency by telephone (+86 10 6892 1000) or email (huanghui@wanhuida.com, ranjard@wanhuida.com, qinhuimin@wanhuida.com or jiangnan@wanhuida.com). The Wan Hui Da Law Firm & Intellectual Property Agency website can be accessed at www.wanhuida.com.

Endnotes

(1) Chen Zhe v Yu Zheng, Beijing High People's Court (2015) Gao Min (Zhi) Zhong Zi 1039 civil judgment.

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