Zhou Lin: A Pioneer of China’s Art Law

2011/12/15,By Kevin Nie, China IP,[Copyright]

Professor Zhou Lin, as a well-known Chinese expert in law, has made extraordinary contributions to the IP field, especially in the area of Copyright Law. Among his achievements, one item worth special attention is that he is also one of the pioneers in art law research. Mr. Zhou has long been lecturing on art law for the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and has published many influential professional books, such as Copyright Protection for Artists of Fine Art and The Practicality Manual of Art Law. Among these books, Practicality Manual of Art Law is of particular note as it studies and analyzes both comprehensively and systematically the existing laws and regulations concerning artwork protection and lawsuits in Chinese artwork market. It is also a very practical book in that it provides 28 kinds of sample contracts for the reference of the artists, which have consistently been evaluated as of great help to those artists entering the market. Mr. Zhou is also the translator of Art Law in a Nutshell, the first translation work in China of a very popular book series in the US, which introduces art law systematically and was originally written by the American art law expert, Professor Duboff.L.D.
His book research and extensive publications on art law on the one hand provide advice and reports of countermeasures to the legislative body and governmental ministries; on the other hand his works serve as legal provisions providing reference materials to virtually all interested parties in the artwork market, and therefore he has received high evaluations not only from experts in the arts, but common readers as wells. At present, Mr. Zhou is still focusing on these subjects including, the cultural heritage law, the protection of traditional knowledge and the new hot topic of information law.
Recently, Mr. Zhou accepted an interview request from China IP and shared his opinions and understandings of art law and issues related to the artwork market.
About the Art Law

China IP: Could you introduce the background and basics of the emergence of the study of art law?
Mr. Zhou: In the 1970s, there was an art investment boom in America and European countries. During that period, some people from the legal field and artists summarized and published a wide variety of academic thesis and books on the legal protection of artworks on the basis of practice. Gradually, an independent subject in the legal field, the study of art law, came into being.
The study of art law focuses mainly on researches and solutions of the legal problems generated in the process of artwork creation, discovery, production, sale, circulation, exhibition and collection, such as the importation, auctions, identification, insurance, taxation, the freedom of speech for artists as well as their IP protection. None of these problems can be solved by a single law or regulation, and consequently have to be handled by a variety of laws and regulations. Therefore, the study of art law necessarily has to involve an understanding of a series of relevant laws and regulations, cases and social practices.
China IP: When did you begin to deal with the study of art law?
Mr. Zhou: I was introduced to the study of art law in 1991, the year when the Copyright Law came into effect. At that time, I was still working in the National Copyright Administration. I was attending a copyright training class organized by the National Copyright Administration of the United States in the Library of Congress when I came across a book titled Art Law in a Nutshell in a book store. This book includes not only content concerning copyright, but also contents related to the protection of artists’ legal rights and the artwork market. I bought the book and resolved to translate and publish it in China. It happened that before long, the China Social Sciences Press planned to translate a series of books published by the West Publishing Company, and Art Law in a Nutshell coincidentally happened to be included. At that point the press was looking for a translator and I was willing to do the work. Some time later, I got in touch with the author Duboff.L.D., who wrote the foreword especially for the Chinese version and discussed issues relating to the art law with me. He became my teacher and friend in my study of art law; a mentor from whom I’ve learned a lot. Although Art Law in a Nutshell mainly focuses on American laws and cases, the legal principles and operating skills are still of great reference value to Chinese readers, especially legal workers, artists, artwork dealers, artwork collectors and staff of museums. By far, the English version of this book has been the fourth edition while the Chinese version has been the second.
In the years after, I had a lot of opportunities to contract with the fine art field and began to write on art laws. In 1995, Gallery magazine invited me to write the column “Art and Law” for them. At that time, the Copyright Law had only been implemented for a few years, and the Chinese artwork market was just emerging. I made a suggestion that to bring order to the market, we could borrow and learn from the art law in foreign countries and began to make introductions and case analysis. From then on, I have published about 10 case analysis and translation works in that column within a few years.
China IP: What is the practical condition today in China’s study and education of art law?
Mr. Zhou: As a relatively independent subject, art law has its special features in the study of law since its studying subject is unique. Being a brand new field in China, the study of art law requires a professional background and distinguished approaches. By far, the understanding of this new subject is still deepening.
According to the educational situation of art law in China, the National Central Academy of Fine Arts began earlier in comparison with other universities and institutes and achieved a better effect. I have been invited to lecture on art law in the Art History Major of the National Central Academy of Fine Arts since 1994. The course aims to teach the senior students art law and is available every two years. Since 2006, I began to cooperate with the Management Major of the National Central Academy of Fine Arts to recruit graduate students majoring in art law, and many of the students have already graduated. This subject suits the socialist market mechanism, and especially the emerging and development of the artwork market. I hope the National Central Academy of Fine Arts could carry on, and more art and law universities and institutes can provide such courses.
The Infringements of Artworks and the Upholding of the Author’s Rights
China IP: When did counterfeit artwork begin to show up in the auctions? Could you describe the situation at that time?
Mr. Zhou: Beginning in the 1990s, counterfeit artworks began to emerge on the auction market, the most famous lawsuits, like the Wu Guanzhong suing Shanghai Duo Yun Xuan Auction Company for selling fake artworks under Wu’s name, and some Hangzhou-based auction company sold fake Zhang Daqian’s paintings. A great deal of media sources reported on these cases and they have aroused wide attention.
At that time, although the Copyright Law and the Auction Law has been enforced successively, right holders had no idea how to uphold their rights due to a lack of practice. There were also controversial opinions on the courts’ judgments. As to the reason why common citizens paid attention to these cases, I think maybe it was because cultural hot topics were few at that time. Focusing on these problems, in 1998 I edited and published The Practicality Manual of Art Law. I have no idea what influenced me to write this book, but there were a lot of people with an eye for these kinds of cases. For instance, Liu Chunhua’s oil painting Chairman Mao on His Way to Anyuan was sold at an astonishing price in an auction and therefore entailed a dispute over the holder of the copyright and caused a sensation.
China IP: While participating in an exhibition, how can the right holders best safeguard their copyrights?
Mr. Zhou: Two years ago, during the national exhibition of fine art, I paid special attention to a line in the rules for the implementation of the exhibition about the right of the exhibition holder, saying that the holder has the right of exhibiting, publishing, recording, studying and other rights. I think the rights should be laid out in details. Take the right of exhibiting for example, what kind of right is it indeed? Is it the right of the existing exhibition or the right of exhibitions to be held abroad? It should be written in details. In practice, there are many disputes caused by imprecise articles in the contracts. We should advise the artists to know more about the extent of these rights.
China IP: Recent years have witnessed many cases in which murals have been damaged because of the re-decoration of the restaurants. What should we learn from these cases? How should we understand the phrase “to protect the integrity of the artwork”?
Mr. Zhou: As for the protection of murals, we should summarize the successful lawsuits and use them as a reference for the protection of public arts. We have the Copyright Law, and the Property Law, which should not be contradicting each other. One cannot remove or damage the integrity of an artwork under the excuse of the Property Law. In our country, upon the understanding of the integrity of artworks, the academic circle commonly holds that the process of enlargement, reducing or re-doing can all possibly damage the integrity of an artwork. In this aspect, there are many cases abroad could be provided as examples.
China IP: What about the present development of the domestic artwork agency industry? What suggestions do you have?
Mr. Zhou: We must set up a complete artwork agency system, and the China Artists Association can promote the process. Currently, the artwork agency industry has made great progress compared to 20 years ago. However, the artwork agency industry is still imperfect. Artwork agencies can set up artwork databases for artists which will help to combat counterfeits and contribute to the research on the history of art.
China IP: In your perspective, is the copyright of fine art works suitable to the mode of collective management?
Mr. Zhou: So far, China has established five collective management organizations in charge of literature, music, videos, films and photography respectively, while fine art has not yet included. In my view, the collective management organization for fine art should be set up as soon as possible too. In this way, the right holders will be able to transfer the rights, which so far they have found to be difficult and improper to manage by themselves. And the organizations, on behalf of the right holders, can therefore authorize copyright users and charge them.
China IP: What are your expectations on the improvement of the Chinese artwork market and legal protection of artworks?
Mr. Zhou: From now on, artwork and art market will in no doubt be combined more intensely. Currently, the constitution of law is of course important to the establishment and perfection of the Chinese artwork market; however, the enforcement of these laws is worthy of more attention. With respect to the aspects of artwork protection, China has implemented some laws and regulations. Citizens and legal persons involved in the art market activities could find some legal basis in the existing Civil Law, the Law of the Peoples Republic of China on Protection of Cultural Relics, the Copyright Law, China’s Tax Law, the Contract Law and other relevant provisions. Our priority is to improve the legal awareness of the art market participants, to develop their habits of acting according to law, while also training a number of lawyers and legal workers who can understand arts, are familiar with the relevant laws and regulations, and are willing to maintain purity and sanctity of art.
Zhou Lin was born in September, 1958. With a doctorate degree in law, he is now a researcher at the Intellectual Property Center of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and a professor in Institute of Law of CASS. He received a master degree in law from the graduate school of China University of Political Science and Law in 1989 and received his doctorate degree from the graduate school of CASS in 2002. From 1989 to 1994, he was in charge of Copyright magazine and participated in the legislation of the Copyright Law in National Copyright Administration. In 1994, he began to do researches on intellectual property in the IP Center of CASS. During that period, he became people’s assessor in Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court on invitation (1995-1996), and heard or participated in more than 30 IP cases.
Since 1994, Professor Zhou Lin has become the counsel of Copyright Society of China. And he has become a member of Cultural Heritage Law Committee of Institute of International Law since 1998. From 1999 to 2002, he was an arbitrator in “eResolution,” an international domain name arbitration agency. Since 2003, he has become an arbitrator in Domain Name Dispute Resolution Center (DNDRC) of China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) and has arbitrated many domain name dispute cases. He also lectures on intellectual property law, art law, art law and information law as an adjunct professor at Peking University, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Tongji University and University of Science and Technology Beijing. He has hosted several seminars and made some speeches in University of Tokyo in Japan, University of London in UK, University of Muenster and University of Saaland in Germany. His publications include An Overview of Copyright Law of China (Chief Editor), Practicality Manual of Art Law (Chief Editor), Researches on China Copyright History (one of chief editors), Trial and Judgment of Intellectual Property Cases (Chinese and English version, Japanese version) (Chief Editor, Philosophy of Intellectual Property Law (translator) and An Overview of Art Law (translator).
Professor Zhou Lin is good at traditional Chinese painting and large-sized photography. In 1994, he became a member of China Artists Association, and in 1996, he moved on to be a member of China Photographers Association.

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