China’s top ballet company in shouting match with courts over royalty order for repertoire performed for Richard Nixon

Leading dance troupe denounces judge after he tells it to pay US$21,000 for royalty compensation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 11:25pm

China’s top ballet company has become embroiled in a war of words with two of the country’s courts over a royalty dispute for a work best known abroad for being performed for US president Richard Nixon during his 1972 trip to China.

The government-funded National Ballet of China lashed out at the Xicheng District People’s Court on its microblog on Tuesday, accusing the court and its presiding judge of “legal corruption” by “wrongfully enforcing” the ruling on an adaptation of The Red Detachment of Women.

It said it would suspend the performance of the work, according to the statement.

The court countered online with a detailed statement of the legal proceedings, prompting Beijing’s top court to share the link on its own online account before all statements were taken offline on Wednesday.

The Red Detachment of Women has been a centrepiece of the company’s repertoire for decades and has been performed thousands of times since it was adapted from a movie in 1964 by screenwriter Liang Xin.

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The revolutionary ballet tells the story of a group of women farmers on the southern island of Hainan fighting for the Communist Party for national liberation.

It was one of eight “model” revolutionary plays promoted by Jiang Qing, late chairman Mao Zedong’s wife, during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1993, Liang signed an agreement with the company to credit him as the source of the original material and pay him 5,000 yuan, based on an intellectual property rights law passed two years earlier.

But in 2012, Liang, then 86, sued the company for breach of copyright by continuing the perform the work without crediting or paying him. Liang argued that under the 1991 law his agreement with company was valid for 10 years and should have been renewed when it lapsed.

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He demanded 550,000 yuan in compensation and an apology for the “unauthorised” performances.

When the case was heard in the Xicheng court in 2015, the company argued that the 5,000 yuan paid to Liang back in 1993 was a one-off payment for allowing an adaptation of the movie.

The court agreed that the deal between Liang and the company remained valid but said Liang should also be paid for the performances since 2003.

The court ordered the company, which is fully funded and supervised by the Ministry of Culture, to pay Liang 120,000 yuan in compensation and issue a written apology on its website for not crediting Liang.

The company appealed against the decision in an intellectual property court and lost. It appealed again to the Beijing High People’s Court in 2016 but the court refused to hear the case.

Liang died in January last year and his widow pursued the suit. On December 28, the Xicheng court said the it would enforce its 2003 ruling, ordering the company to pay Liang’s widow 136,763 yuan (US$21,000) and issue the apology.

On Tuesday, the company accused the Xicheng judge of dereliction of duty in an online statement riddled with exclamation marks and emotive language.

The Xicheng court then released links to documents that covered the original hearings and appeals.

The Beijing High People’s Court also weighed in, saying that “those who have contempt for the law will damage their reputations, no matter how beautifully they dance”.

“The more influential the figure or organisation, the greater the social responsibility they must shoulder to abide by the law. The National Ballet of China, with its social status and influence, should acquire some legal knowledge, vent less one-sided emotion and not brandish its reputation,” the high court said.

The remarks were then removed without explanation.