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China’s iQiyi seeks US$4.4 million in damages for unlicensed streaming of hit show about back-stabbing concubines

A Jinri Toutiao spokeswoman said the company has not yet received a notice from the Chinese courts regarding the iQiyi case.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 11:44am

China’s largest video streaming site iQiyi is suing Beijing ByteDance Technology, the operator of information aggregation app Jinri Toutiao, for unauthorised streaming of its hit show about back-stabbing imperial concubines, seeking compensation of 30 million yuan (US$4.4 million).

The Haidian District People’s Court of Beijing has accepted the lawsuit, a case briefing posted on the court’s homepage showed on Monday.

iQiyi, which has exclusive online distribution rights to The Story of Yanxi Palace, accused ByteDance of streaming short clips of the hit drama that drew over 800,000 views per clip, causing “tremendous damage” to the company, iQiyi said.

The 70-episode soap opera about Qing dynasty imperial concubines back-stabbing each other to gain the emperor’s favour had amassed more than 10 billion views as of the court filing and smashed the platform’s one-day viewership record in early August.

Co-produced by iQiyi and Huanyu Film, Yanxi Palace is available in more than 70 markets globally, making it one of the most widely distributed period series produced by the country.

The runaway hit nonetheless surprised many in the industry because of the absence of A-listers, with Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh Sze-man arguably the most famous cast member outside mainland China.

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Known as China’s Netflix, iQiyi is claiming 30 million yuan as compensation for economic losses and expenditures, and further demanded that ByteDance terminate any further live streaming.

A Jinri Toutiao spokeswoman said the company has not yet received a notice from the Chinese courts regarding the iQiyi case. “We condemn any form of copyright infringement and have made continuous effort in tackling it,” she added.

The spokeswoman also said: “After receiving a notice from iQiyi regarding this issue recently, we conducted an internal check of our platform and took down all the third-party content that violated the copyright of the programme owned by iQiyi. All users that violated our policy have received relevant punishment.”

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Jinri Toutiao aggregates content from third-party content providers and uses AI algorithms to recommend articles and videos to users based on their interests. The platform had 104 million daily active users in March, according to Aurora Mobile.

The lawsuit follows an earlier one from iQiyi in May against live streaming site Bilibili for the unlicensed streaming of last year’s hip-hop talent show Rap of China, with 1 million yuan in compensation sought.

The final episode of Rap of China, originally shown last September, had amassed 330 million views as of April, according to iQiyi, which said “lofty” resources, both financial and human, went into its production.

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Like Netflix in the US, online streaming platforms in China have increasingly muscled in on the origination and distribution of content that was traditionally the preserve of state-backed national and provincial broadcasters.

At stake are billions of dollars in advertising and other revenue. China is home to the world’s largest internet population, with 800 million people online. The video-streaming market reached 95.2 billion yuan revenues last year and is expected to hit 200 billion yuan by 2020, driven by membership fees, according to iResearch.