“When COAPU is no longer needed, then we will be successful”—Interview with Tong Zhilei, Secretary General of COAPU

Issue 28 By Li Wei, China IP,[Copyright]

In 2000, Tong Zhilei achieved his goal of starting a ChineseAll digital publishing company, of which Tong was the Chairman of the Board of Directors. This goal had been his dream ever since he attended a business plan competition at Tsinghua University. However, 5 years later, he realized that the challenges of piracy faced by the digital publishing business were much more serious than those faced by conventional publishers. On July 9, 2005, he established the “Chinese Online Anti-Piracy Union” (COAPU), with its secretariat located in ChineseAll.

At the beginning of 2009, after COAPU was in operation for four years, China IP interviewed Tong Zhilei.

A “forced” choice

China IP: What prompted you to set up COAPU?

Tong: Actually, we were “forced” to set up COAPU. In 2000, we started ChineseAll, a digital publishing company. Digital publishing has been revolutionary. Conventional publishing requires not only content, but also media, such as paper or CDs. However, in the digital age, these are no longer necessary; contents can be downloaded from the Internet by mobile phone or using a reader device.

In fact, each digital publication is a dissemination of digital contents, and all disseminations require authorization. The essence of digital publishing is digital copyright. As a result, copyright becomes paramount to digital publishing. Every publication is a process of copyright licensing and a copyright transaction. So the biggest challenge is piracy.

Piracy of conventional publications involves high costs. For example, a piracy printing shop or a production line needs tens of thousands of Yuan. In the digital age, piracy has been simplified to only two clicks: copy and paste. Anyone can do this. Companies like ours have to protect our own rights using sword of the law.

However, our own endeavor is not enough. Although piracy is rampant and concerns many websites, there are also many related copyright holders. Only when copyright holders unite, can anti-piracy power be strengthened. So, this is a “forced” choice for us.

Three-dimensional protection pattern

China IP: At the beginning, how did COAPU break new ground? How did you gain the authors’ trust?

Tong: In 1999, there was a famous case, Six Authors (including Wang Meng) v. 21ViaNet (China), Inc. This case caused a sensation at that time. Many people considered that all content on the Internet was free and there was no need to get the authors’ permission. Even worse, some companies held that when they put the authors’ works on the websites, they were helping them to publicize their works. In such situations, Wang Meng, Zhang Kangkang and four other authors sued 21ViaNet and won. Actually, there are few authors who have the sense to protect their own copyright. The money and time costs are tremendous. Many authors have no choice but to give up and hope someone can help them.

Some commercial Internet companies are pirating deliberately, because the cost of piracy and compensation for the authors may be only a fraction compared to their gains. Many Internet companies began to use works without permission. In this situation, we told the authors that we would publicize the authors’ works on the Internet with their permission and pay their royalties. The authors were very excited to hear that and were willing to cooperate with us.

China IP: Compared with other copyright protection organizations, what is COAPU’s specialty?

Tong: COAPU’s original idea was to bring together copyright holders, webhosts, publishers and law firms and to call on the copyright holders to resist piracy together. COAPU was established on the basis of ChineseAll, so we already had a close relationship with copyright holders and publishers, and it was advantageous for us to integrate these resources.

Although the authoritativeness of administrative organizations cannot be replaced, COAPU has advantages in human resources. The human resources of some administrative organizations are limited. There are only several dozens staff in the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC), so they are always under a great deal of pressure. Although they have already done much work, such as the Internet anti-piracy campaign and the Olympic Games’ copyright protection program, they cannot deal with all forms of piracy. Other copyright protection organizations like us can make up for their shortages, because we not only have enough staff, but we also can apply for judiciary help, seek remedies for the copyright holders, and improve the public’s awareness.

China IP: How does COAPU operate?

Tong: It is a kind of three-dimensional protection pattern. By cooperating with COAPU, copyright holders authorize their copyright to COAPU. With the help of COAPU’s lawyers, copyright holders can protect their copyright on a contingency basis. We don’t get paid until they get paid. Without a three-dimensional copyright protection organization, copyright holders are in a disadvantaged position. If a copyright holder wants to sue an Internet company, it is difficult for him to contend with the high costs of fighting that company, and the copyright holder is not a professional. Even if he hires a lawyer, the lawyer is often no match for a companies’ lawyer. A three-dimensional organization can unite many copyright holders and other organizations. When we find an infringer, we can organize dozens of copyright holders with hundreds of works, instead of just one copyright holder with one work. Using these large, consolidated amounts, we can compensate for our costs.

Cooperation with law firms and other organizations can also help us establish a three-dimensional supervising system including civil action, criminal action, administrative management, security organs, procuratorial organs, people’s courts and the media. Although they play different roles, the effects of these joint efforts are obvious.

Difficulties and “32 Days”

China IP: What is your most serious difficulty?

Tong: Due to the unique aspects of the Internet, collecting evidence, time, and locating infringers are all serious difficulties for us. For example, it is hard to find small Internet companies in certain small cities, thus it is hard to pinpoint infringers and their localities. Even if they are found out, they will possibly deny the facts or threaten us. Also, they will delay maliciously for up to one year. We also have to face many technical challenges. In our first mobile phone copyright case, it was hard for us to collect evidence on mobile phones without technical support, although finally we won and received compensation. It is closely related to our determination. We are holding on to our goal. Also, China has made a great progress on legalization and the legal system in China has become more mature. If we are reasonable, we will win.

China IP: What kind of measures did COAPU take to deal with these challenges?

Tong: We established a “32 Days” system. Our staff searches for those authorized works every day and if they find an infringement, they will collect the evidence immediately. COAPU will send attorney letters to the infringers and sue them under the law. We promise to complete this procedure in “32 Days.” After 32 days, we will initiate judicial proceedings. COAPU established this system to avoid delays in these cases.

Anti-piracy environment and punitive damages system

China IP: During the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government protected the Olympic copyright successfully. Do you think that China has to depend on the government to enhance copyright protection alone, or can social organizations, such as COAPU, also do this successfully?

Tong: We need everyone’s effort. During the Olympic Games, the Chinese government’s protection of the Olympic copyright enhanced our confidence. In addition to the successful protection by the government, we are finding that social organizations like ours are becoming of great importance.

Although every government plays an important role in copyright protection, it is not enough to depend on if alone. Governments often don’t have enough staff. Social copyright protection organizations will possibly become the mainstream. I hope more copyright holders can join us because many hands make light work. When we sue an Internet company, suing on behalf of a few works or hundreds of works can make a big difference. The latter is more likely to be compensated. However, some copyright holders have not realized this. Some people think that anti-piracy is the government’s work. In fact, copyright is a private right. I think we should publicize this idea to all the copyright holders and also to the public. China is in the process of becoming an innovative nation. I think innovation requires intellectual innovation, so the protection of intellectual property is a real need. So both encouraging innovation and enhancing the public’s copyright protection awareness are very important.

China IP: In your opinion, what is the most urgent problem involving anti-piracy legislation?

Tong: I think establishing a punitive damages system is the most important. Although COAPU has done much work during the past years, we have been unable to make ends meet. We have a lot of costs — the cost of staff, evidence collection, and litigation, etc. — yet we receive little compensation. It is really hard to us. So we should establish a punitive damages system. The government should impose a pecuniary punishment on infringers so they must pay much more than they earn, otherwise, piracy will be hard to eradicate. The infringers should pay punitive damages until they dare not commit piracy. Also, a punitive damages system will keep social organizations like ours running smoothly.

We regard our work as a great enterprise. If we consider our work to be a tool to earn money, we might have given up a long time ago. The copyright protection environment in China is our air and water. If the environment is enhanced, we will grow quickly.

China IP: Besides literary works, are you interested in other forms of works, such as video, movie and music?

Tong: With the development of the Internet, more piracy forms will bring us more challenges. Various forms of pirated online music, movie, video, games, and other multi-media emerge in an endless stream, so we are expanding our range to include these fields. If piracy disappears one day, COAPU will disappear. It will be our great honor. When COAPU is no longer needed, then we will be successful.

(Translated by Li Wei)


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