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Copyright dispute on uploading screenshots in China

Copyright Dispute on whether an act of uploading Posters, Snapshots and Screenshots of films on an information-sharing platform for comments and exchange among Internet users constitutes fair use regulated in Article 22 of Copyright law.

Douban is an information-sharing platform for Internet users to comment on and exchange about  films and TV series. “On this platform, under the heading of “Obstetrician” displayed information about posters, directors, script writers, and main actors, in addition to a list of short comments by series, summaries, pictures of the scenes, etc. In the album section, there are videos, posters, screenshots of the TV series uploaded by Internet users. Flowers Film contends that as copyright holder of the TV series it is entitled to the copyright of the series, the screenshots and posters, etc.”

Plaintiff: Dongyang Leshi Flowers Film and Television Culture Co., LTD. (Flowers Film)
Defendant: Douban.com of Beijing (Douban)

Flowers Film is the copyright holder of TV series “The Obstetrician” (the TV series at issue).

The plaintiff requested Douban to:

  1. delete the screenshots and posters of the TV series on the “Douban Movie” page immediately;
  2. publish a statement on its website for three consecutive days to eliminate the negative impact.
  3. compensate for economic losses of 6,800 yuan and reasonable expenses of 1,600 yuan.

The key issues in this case:

  1. Does the plaintiff Flowers Film have the right to claim copyright for the stills, posters and screenshots of the TV series involved?
  2. Does the online user who uploaded the screenshots onto the Douban website constitute the fair use of the work?
  3. Does the defendant Douban, by allowing users to upload the works involved in the case, infringe the copyright of the plaintiff?

The court found that:

  1. Flowers Film does not have a right to claim copyrights for the still images and posters of the works involved, but it has a right to claim copyrights for the screenshots of the works.
  2. Article 22 of Copyright Law enumerates 12 acts of fair use, Article 21 of the Regulation for the Implementation of the Copyright Law regulates that ‘The use of a published work without the copyright owner’s authorization, as stated in the relevant provisions of the Copyright Law, shall neither affect the normal use of the work, nor harm, in an unreasonable manner, the copyright owner’s lawful rights and interest. Although the online users’ acts of network dissemination of information without permission by the copyright owner, since it does not conflict with the normal use of the work and does not unreasonably damage the legitimate interests of copyright owner and no economic losses, this network information dissemination behavior constitutes the fair use regulated in Article 22 of Copyright law.
  3. Douban is an information sharing platform for online users to comment on and exchange about information for films and series. It is a network storage space service provider. The premise of the infringement of the information network storage space provider is that it knows or should know that there is infringing content on its platform, and does not take measures to stop it in a timely manner. In this case, the behavior of uploading screenshots by network users does not infringe copyright law, so the behavior of Douban does not constitute an infringement.

Therefore, the court dismissed the entire claim of Flowers Film. The trial court decision becomes effective since neither of the parties files appeal.

Yet the rapid development of new technologies of dissemination and new modes of business caused a tremendous impact on such close-ended legislative modes. The exhaustive list of fair use under Article 22 can no longer meet the needs of reality. This case started originally through the fair use regime by applying the tripartite test in conjunction with Article 21 of the Regulation for the Implementation of the Copyright Law. This case sets the peripheral boundaries of fair use by conducting active exploration, and its decision achieved the balance between the interests of copyright owner, Internet service provider, and the public, which serves a certain referential value for deciding similar cases, and also has a promotional effect for the development of movie critiques.

Jiaqing Huang

1. http://www.chinaipmagazine.com/en/journal-show.asp?id=1585
2. http://wenshu.court.gov.cn/content/content?DocID=cd0c8f60-3479-459b-b42b-a85700d8ba32&KeyWord=%E4%B9%90%E8%A7%86%E8%8A%B1%E5%84%BF%7C%E8%B1%86%E7%93%A3