Piracy judgments sound, but enforcement an issue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am


Although China has relatively sound legislation on intellectual property rights, as required by the World Trade Organisation, enforcing them to combat piracy was a different matter, said Si Weijiang, one of the mainland's top IPR lawyers.

'If law enforcement is lax, China will be criticised by the international community; it will also hurt the mainland's burgeoning hi-tech enterprises,' he said.

'But if they tighten the crackdown too much, many bootleg producers and vendors selling such products will lose their jobs, and that will harm social stability. The anti-piracy campaign is also bad news for large domestic enterprises, some of which are also infringing rights.'

Si recalled one of his early cases, in which he represented a senior composer suing the mineral water giant Wahaha for using the three characters Wa Ha Ha without the composer's consent in 2000. Guo Shifu said he had written a Uygur-style children's song in the 1950s and named it Wahaha, which became popular nationwide.

Si said one of the curiosities about the case was that Wahaha presented some calligraphy by state leaders - such as then premier Zhu Rongji, who had visited the company - to the court in its defence.

A Shanghai court ruled in favour of Wahaha, which tried to make amends by offering him 30,000 yuan for his 'contribution to China's music field'. Guo rejected the offer.

A WTO member for a decade, China is still a hotbed of piracy - from consumer goods such as apparel, shoes, musical works and software to buildings that 'import' the appearance of world-famous buildings.

Tian Lipu , director of the State Intellectual Property Office, said earlier this year that in some areas and for some specific products, the infringement were very grave. 'It's a big task to raise people's IPR awareness and promote the relevant culture in China,' Tian said.

Last year, 41,718 IPR cases were heard nationwide, including 1,369 involving foreign parties.

Si said he found that compared with his rights activism, there were far fewer unreasonable judgments in IPR lawsuits. One reason was probably that IPR judges were better qualified, and also because such cases involved challenging private rights, rather than any authority.

In 2008, Si represented the Hangzhou Zhang Xiaoquan Group of Zhejiang in a suit against the Shanghai Zhang Xiaoquan Scissor Manufacturing Company for allegedly using the Hangzhou company's logo. They won the lawsuit and the case has seen been used as an example by the Supreme People's Court as one of 100 typical IPR actions since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Si said he usually warned overseas clients not to expect big payouts. 'In some cases,' he said, 'the compensation here may be one-thousandth of that in advanced countries.'