Paper Media: Walking on a Hard Path of IP Protection

2010/09/27,By Doris Li, China IP,[Copyright]

Beijing News has dug itself into an embarrassing trap. Now confronted with the prospect of having to file 7,706 individual lawsuits, we don’t know whether the paper has the stamina to endure the cumbersome path to protect its rights or not. In the complaint letter submitted to the Supreme People’s Courts it writes, “How unbelievable it is!”
7,706 lawsuits
At the end of May, a new article titled, “Beijing News sued Zhejiang Online for illegal reproduction. Court classified 7,706 actions” made readers unsure whether to laugh or cry. The action again pushed the once settled dispute that, “Paper media is the ‘free nanny’ of Internet media” back into the forefront.
Founded in 2003, Beijing News was co-organized by Guangming Daily and South Daily, two major newspaper groups of China, with Guangming Daily in the charge. In 2007, Beijing News claims that it discovered that, which is associated by Zhejiang Online Network Media Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as zjol), had illegally used 7,706 of its articles from 2003 to 2007. Upon discovery of the articles, Beijing News communicated with zjol repeatedly, but its efforts were in vain. Finally, Beijing News appealed to the Hangzhou Intermediate People’s Court (hereinafter referred to as Huangzhou Intermediate Court).
The troubles of Beijing News doubled with the action procedure.
The decision from the Hangzhou Intermediate Court came: The lawsuit involves more than 7,000 articles and more than 500 authors; The plaintiff, Beijing News, brought an action against the defendant zjol for different controversial points, forming many litigation objectives and therefore independent appeals; and consequently each claim cannot be handled as a joinder issue due to the nature of the case. The court informed the plaintiff in writing that each article constituted a different individual case with the exception that different articles written by the same author could be joined into an individual case
When Beijing News refused to abide by the decision made by Huangzhou Intermediate Court, the plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed. Afterwards, Beijing News appealed to the Zhejiang Higher People’s Court and lodged a complaint against the Huangzhou Intermediate Court.
Beijing News writes in the complaint letter submitted to the Supreme People’s Courts that, “How unbelievable it is!”  Xu Yaoming, the Law Department Director of Beijng News, said in an interview that, “It cost us a lot to collect the 7,000 articles illegally used by zjol. During the first session, we brought several boxes of evidence to the court.”
In the opinion of Beijing News, the litigation objective only involved the copyright infringement issue with a single legal relationship and a single litigation subject. Therefore, it was unnecessary to handle each article as a separate case. In other words, the separate registration and separate procedure for each article would increase court fees and result in a great waste of human, financial and material resources. Since the court evidence has already been exchanged five times, all the procedures of court trial have been finished, and the hearing has passed the legal period. The proposed separate registration and separate procedure of each article will only prolong the final decision, and the illegal behavior cannot be duly prohibited. How unbelievable the behavior of Huangzhou Intermediate Court is! What would Zhejiang Higher People’s Court think when it saw such a sharp increase in the number of IP cases submitted to the Huangzhou Intermediate Court? 
We could feel from the wording of the response to the decision of Huangzhou Intermediate Court that Beijing News was “very mad” at the decision. After talking with Xu Yaoming, the director of Justice Department, our journalist believed that Beijing News would never give up, and was determined to rid itself of playing the role of “free nanny.”
 “Free nanny”
The nickname of “free nanny” was fashioned for paper media when Internet media first appeared. Some media once commented that, “The copyright protection of paper media is useless in the Internet world, where articles are copied, tampered with and the names of authors are deleted.” However, contradictions arise amidst the shouts regarding IP protection. On one hand, while the copyright protection of paper media is deprived by Internet media, some paper media simultaneously take the pride when they find their articles reprinted on the Internet. Paper media themselves fight vigorously for copyright protection, but they keep rather silent when confronted with Internet media in court. On the other hand, Internet media take a dual attitude toward copyright protection; that is, they cannot tolerate it when other Internet media to use articles they suspected of infringing an IP right impacting them. But they take a tolerant attitude toward their own use of articles taken from paper media impacting others.”
Zhejiang Online regarded Beijing News’ position as unreasonable. “Exchanging articles between media networks is a common practice and an unwritten policy. The claim of Beijing News is unacceptable,” said Wu Xiaolong, Office Manager of Zhejiang Online. “Since Beijing News belongs to two parties, Guangming Daily and South Daily, zjol is permitted to reprint the articles from its founder, Guangming Daily, as well as from its affiliated newspaper, Beijing News. This practice is called the tacit exchanging principle.”
The so-called “tacit exchanging principle” has the similar implication as the cutting-edge jargon “latent rule,” which many websites take as an excuse to reprint articles from paper media charged by the local government.
As there are no definite regulations on such disputes and some use of the “latent rule” still prevails, the exclamation, “How incredible it is” can often be heard in the process of copyright protection. Generally, it takes a long time to prevail in copyright protection, and the compensation is not satisfactory to the claimant. Therefore, many media paper choose out-of-court settlement and court mediation.
On June, 2009, Finance and Economy Magazine entrusted a law firm to bring an action against five media suspected of infringing Finance and Economy’s IP right, four of which were networks. According to the report of the South Daily, since 2006, Finance and Economy Magazine has especially created a column of “Rights Protection”, put anti-infringement warnings on its website, and continuously issued information concerned with the websites infringing its IP rights. However, according to the introductory statements from Pu Zhiqiang, the Law Consultant of Finance and Economy Magazine, there has been no settlement coming from the “judgment of the court.”
Take the Beijing People’s Court in Haidian District for example; according to the report of China Youth News, in 2007, the number of cases involving the disputes between paper media and Internet media was no more than ten. In 2008, the number increased to more than fifty. In the first half of 2009 the number had reached to one hundred and twenty.
Serious result
Until now, infringement cases involving paper media have not attracted enough attention. Though some media have reported such cases from time to time, virtually no actual progress has been achieved.
Judging from the fate of some American paper media in 2009, we can predict what the result will be. On March 16, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligence newspaper, with a history of 146 years, went bankrupt. On March 26 of the same year, The New York Times and Washington Post announced plans to reduce the cost of their papers. On April 7, the Chairman of Associated Press, William Dean Singleton expressed his dissatisfaction by saying, “We cannot continue to give all of our content away for free.”
In 2009, Yan Xiaohong, the Deputy Administrator of Press and Publications Administration, expressed in an interview with China IP that, “Print Media and paper media are becoming Internet media’s free resource, which should be seriously considered. Compared with the transmission of Internet, print media requires a long circulation period and involves more cost. The Internet media has to respect the intellectual property rights of print media for using its resources.”
Last year, the search engine giant Google lost a lawsuit in which Google was accused of infringing 18 Belgian newspapers. The Belgian court concluded that Google had infringed on the copyrights of 18 newspapers and ordered Google to delete all the related website links and content. Otherwise, a high fine would be incurred. Many domestic media reported this event. We strongly feel that the laws or regulations should hold a strong enforcement attitude based on the sheer injustice of the result, to protect the interests of right holders and to avoid such unbelievable cases, such as 7,706 lawsuits arising in an appeal.

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