Copyright is an essential part of any China IP protection plan, but many companies fail to take an extremely important step: registering their copyrights in China. One of the most common misconceptions is that copyright registration in China is optional, because you do not have to file anything to have a valid copyright in China.
Like so many China misconceptions, this one has an element of truth to it. As a signatory to the Berne Convention, China has the same basic definition of what is protected under copyright as the 171 other Convention parties: an original creative work that exists in a fixed medium. A “creative work” can be anything from a video game, song, or toy to a database, map, or product design. A songwriter in New York, a programmer in Auckland, a furniture designer in Milan: all of their creative works are protected by copyright at the time they complete the work in question, and that copyright is just as valid in China as it is in the U.S., New Zealand, and Italy.
But there is a big difference between having a valid copyright in China and having an enforceable copyright in China.
In most situations, the key issue is one of proof. A copyright registration in China is presumptive evidence of ownership, and in some situations it is the only acceptable evidence. Whether you are trying to take down an infringing video on Youku Tudou or an infringing photograph of your product on Alibaba, have counterfeit dolls seized at China Customs, or sue a publisher who is selling your book without permission, a certificate issued by the Copyright Protection Centre of China (CPCC) is the easiest and most efficient way to enforce your rights. And copyright registration is almost always a prerequisite to getting royalty payments from Chinese entities that have licensed copyrighted material.
Meanwhile, if you are trying to prove ownership of a creative work and you do not have a Chinese copyright registration, it can take weeks or even months – and that assumes a clear, well-documented chain of title. But if you are at the point where you need to enforce a copyright to stop infringement, it’s almost certainly going to be time-sensitive.
China’s copyright registration process is fairly straightforward as it does not involve substantive examination at the time of registration, but it usually takes a couple months to receive a copyright certificate. When our clients have China copyright certificates we usually can secure takedowns of infringing materials relatively quickly and easily. But without a copyright certificate, takedowns take considerably longer and sometimes they do not happen at all.
Bottom Line: If you have copyrightable IP you want to protect in China, register it with the CPCC. Now.