China Copyright Basics

China copyright law is not all that different from US or EU copyright law. Basically, in China, copyrights arise as soon as an original work is created, even (in most cases) if the work has been created outside China. So if you write a song or a book in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that book or song will automatically have copyright protection in China. You do not need to register your copyrights in China for them to be protected in that country. However, if anyone in China were to steal your song or your book, enforcing your copyright claims against that person or entity would be much easier if you have a registered China copyright.

Our international intellectual property lawyers usually recommend to our clients that they register their copyrights in China because doing so makes it far easier and far faster to get websites like Tmall and Taobao to take down infringing goods and to get China customs to stop infringing goods from leaving China for elsewhere.

Here though are some key things you should know about China’s copyright laws.

1. Among the things for which you can register a copyright in China are the following:

  • Written works
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Art
  • Photographs
  • Engineering designs
  • Toy dolls
  • Multimedia compilations
  • Software

2. If you hire someone to create a work for you, that person owns the copyright in the completed work unless you have a contract that states otherwise. I cannot tell you how many times we have been contacted by American (mostly) and European (sometimes) software companies that have lost the copyrights in their software to someone (usually a group of someones) they paid to create the software in China. If you pay your joint venture entity to create software for you and you do not have a contract (preferably in Chinese) with the joint venture entity making clear that you and not the joint venture entity own the copyrights in that software, the joint venture entity will own the copyrights, not you. It also always makes sense to be clear — in writing — with your employees as to who owns the copyrightable works the employees create as between you and them.

3. Just as in the United States and in Europe, copyrights may be licensed, sold, or assigned, but certain “moral rights” need to be carefully dealt with in China. Note though that some copyright licensing and copyright sales agreements are required to be registered with the Chinese government.

4. China, like the United States and Europe, allows “fair use” of another’s copyrighted works. China’s Copyright Law specifies what constitutes fair use and ”fair use” in China correlates somewhat to what is allowed in the United States and in Europe.

5. Just like the United States and Europe, you can register a copyright in your software by revealing very few lines of code.

6. You register China copyrights with the Copyright Protection Center of China (CPCC). The fees for doing so are all over the map, depending on the nature of the work for which registration is being sought, but typically start from well under USD $100.

7. China copyrights last for fifty years or, in the case of an individual, for the author’s lifetime, plus fifty years.