A Shanghai court has ruled against two mainland Internet companies that reprinted copyrighted content from a third firm, a decision that could set a precedent for battles against on-line copyright violations. The Shanghai District Court found that Shanghai Meiwang Technology and Lex Information Service illegally copied material published on the Web by QianlongNews.com. The court ordered the two defendants to pay a 10,000 yuan (about HK$9,370) fine and to publish an apology on their home pages for violating copyright protections of Qianlong. The ruling was reported by the Shanghai government on its Web site. The judgment could become a guide for the Beijing Intermediate People's Court, which is set to hear a similar case between Chinese portals Sina.com and Sohu.com. In recent weeks the two have accused each other of reprinting without authorisation copyrighted news stories, logos, and other content. Sina launched its legal action against Sohu in late January and Sohu filed a countersuit two weeks ago. One plaintiff in the Shanghai case, author Shen Yang, accused Meiwang and Lex of pirating his work, 2001 Chinese and American Hacker Offense and Defence Overview, which was published originally by Qianlong. The court agreed with Shen and Qianlong, ruling his works were entitled to copyright protection under Chinese law. Theft of intellectual property has been widespread in the mainland, with the Web and digital technology making copyright piracy much easier. Foreign and Chinese holders of copyrighted material, including written works, music, and films, have been calling for the courts to punish violators. Lawyers have predicted that since China recently joined the World Trade Organisation, which provides formal mechanisms to lodge claims for copyright violations in other member states, Beijing would tackle the problem.