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Asia Pacific> Asia Weekly> Content
Monday, October 08, 2018, 11:47
IP laws usher in new chapter
By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong
Monday, October 08, 2018, 11:47 By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong

Strict copyright enforcement and protection can reduce piracy, encourage writers and boost the online literature industry

(From lefg) Jing Ruyi, internet literature expert at the Shanghai-based iResearch Consulting Group; Neil Wang, global partner and China managing director at Frost & Sullivan; Ren Xiang, academic course adviser and research fellow at the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University; Wang Dong, author of online novel The King’s Avatar. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY ASIA WEEKLY)

Thirty-something Wang Dong started writing serialized web novels as a hobby. In fact, it was his enthusiast passions for soccer, basketball, the Chinese board game Go and Formula One motor racing that inspired him to write The King’s Avatar in 2011.

The King’s Avatar, which chronicles the adventures of a professional esports player, attracted millions of fans not only in China but overseas as well. It was also adapted into an animated series and TV show. This has made Wang, who is better known online by his handle Butterfly Blue, one of China’s most successful authors.

But like most professional online writers in China, Wang must also contend with piracy. This is why he welcomes the Chinese government’s crackdown on copyright infringement.

“I firmly believe that the improvement (on copyright enforcement) will (give) better protection to our work,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.

Wang said assurance for writers that novels will be protected from privacy will encourage online authors to continuously produce high-quality work.

Analysts interviewed by China Daily Asia Weekly said a stringent intellectual property (IP) protection system will not only help authors but will also boost the growth of the online literature industry.

“Strong copyright enforcement and protection is essential for the (development of the) online literature industry in China,” said Ren Xiang, academic course adviser and research fellow at the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University.

Ren said strict enforcement of copyright law will still create a “positive stimulating environment” for writers, allowing them to focus on their work without worrying about piracy and potential income loss.

Jing Ruyi, internet literature expert at the Shanghai-based iResearch Consulting Group, said IP protection will also encourage digital publishers to sign up more writers to supply copyrighted novels to a growing market.

The online literature industry has grown steadily for the past 30 years, with the China Writers Association noting that the number of digital readers reached nearly 380 million in 2017. 

Internet accessibility

Hong Kong-based China Securities (International) attributed online literature’s appeal to faster internet connectivity and mass availability of smartphones encouraging more people to read online.

But while internet accessibility nurtures the growth of online literature, it also leads to online piracy. Original works are copied and made available on other websites, crimping both the digital publishers’ revenues and authors’ royalties.

According to iResearch’s latest data, the online literature sector lost 7.97 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in 2015 and 7.98 billion yuan in 2016 from online piracy.

“For years, plagiarism in the country’s media industry has been a multibillion-dollar business, but the cost of committing such a crime remains unreasonably low,” said Wang Yangbin, chairman and CEO of Vobile Group, a Hong Kong-listed company offering online video content protection services.

Wang said there was a prevailing misconception that online piracy is a ‘victimless’ crime and the victims are “invisible”. “But, the fact is the victims are visible. It is the content producers and industry investors who fall prey to rampant plagiarism,” Wang said.

As China’s economy grows, so does the need to strengthen the protection of IP rights. This is especially crucial as it moves toward becoming an innovation-driven economy.

Next only to the US, China had the second-highest number of international patent applications filed in 2017. China accounted for roughly 20 percent of the more than 240,000 patent applications filed last year through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said protecting IP rights is an inevitable requirement for achieving innovative growth, according to Xinhua News Agency. Li made this statement on Aug 28 during his meeting in Beijing with WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry at the high-level conference on IP rights for countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Li said China is in a critical stage of upgrading and improving its economy and will adopt a stricter IP rights protection system and improve related laws and regulations. He said violators of IP laws will be severely punished and that China will extend equal protection to both domestic and foreign enterprises.

China has been strictly enforcing the Copyright Law in recent years, mostly through the Sword Net campaign launched by the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC) in 2005.

Under this campaign, the NCAC monitored and shut down thousands of websites and links that violated the Copyright Law. It also confiscated pirated products and filed criminal cases against online pirates.

Last year alone, the NCAC closed down 2,554 infringing websites, confiscated more than 2.76 million printed books, CDs and DVDs, and filed 543 cases for investigation.

For the Sword Net campaign this year, NCAC is targeting online reposts of articles, video clips and animation games.

“We will inspect illegal cases involving reposting stories, shutting down illegal news websites and their online accounts, to rectify and improve infringement behaviors,” said Yu Cike, NCAC’s director of copyright management.

The crackdown, so far, has helped in reducing online piracy, according to the Shanghai-based iResearch Consulting Group. 

Losses decline

In 2014, the online literature industry’s losses due to piracy reached nearly 10 billion yuan. That figure fell to 7.98 billion yuan in 2016. iResearch is yet to publish its 2017 figures, but the market research and consulting firm expects losses due to piracy to have declined further in 2017 thanks to the Sword Net campaign.

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said the “continuous improvement of China’s copyright system for digital content” boosted the online literature sector in 2017.

In its report on China’s internet development, CNNIC, to illustrate the growth of China’s online literature industry, cited the successful listing of digital publishers China Literature on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and IReader Technology on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

But it is not just the online literature sector growing due to a more strict enforcement of China’s Copyright Law.

Online novels have become so wildly popular that digital publishers adapt them into other formats to maximize revenues. This has created another industry — the ‘pan-entertainment’ sector. TV shows, movies and animated series based on the novels are produced to appeal to fans. 

A stronger IP protection system will ensure these adaptations are protected from piracy. 

According to Neil Wang, global partner and China managing director at market research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, IP protection will encourage digital publishers to acquire and create content that can attract and retain users across their various platforms.

“This will encourage the spread of online literature IP and promote the growth of China’s online literature market,” he said.

Writers are also guaranteed higher royalties. Ren of Western Sydney University said protecting copyright in the pan-entertainment industry will provide “a long-term economic incentive” to writers, as royalties will come from adapted versions of their works.

But while Ren welcomed copyright protection’s benefits for writers, he also stressed that most writers do not enter this industry to enrich themselves. 

“In my view, though commercial success of best-selling online authors is encouraging and inspiring, many still write online literature for personal interest, self-expression and cultural participation,” he said.

Wang, author of The King’s Avatar, could not agree more. The runaway success of The King’s Avatar may have allowed him to make a living doing what he loves, but that was not his intention when he started posting stories online in 2005.

“I (read) a novel about online gaming and I was amazed,” he said. “I myself was a gamer and had lots of unfulfilled wishes and expectations in gaming, so (I decided) to write my own story.”


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