Does Confucius Institute Say What’s Your IP Is My IP?


I received an e-mail today from Josh Gartner over at the China Expat blog [link no longer exists. The e-mail asserts that the world-renowned Confucius Institute is copying China Expat articles without any attribution whatsoever:

I have a story I thought you might find interesting. Recently I googled a story we did a couple of months ago about a Xinjiang musical group. Our article came up first, but the Confucius Institute Online came up second. They had posted our article in its entirety. So I went to their website and in a section called “Expat’s View” I found more than 50 articles taken in their entirety from our blog. There is another culture section that also has numerous articles from our site without giving us any credit. In addition, they also appear to have taken an article from Beijing Review, among many others.

Confucius Institute is an extremely rich organization with a virtually endless supply of government money. They have institutes set up in several dozen countries around the world, including thirteen in the US alone. We are a start-up website registered in Hong Kong dedicated to promoting Chinese culture and tourism. China Expat has not yet begun to accept advertising, and thus we have no revenue at all. It is shameful they would do this so brazenly. Please take a look at the links below to compare:

This entire page on the Institute’s site consists of articles taken from us.

This page on the Institute’s site was taken from this page on our site.

Here is the Beijing Review article they appear to have taken improperly.

I can give you dozens more examples. This site seems to confirm we are dealing with the official Institute site as there is a link on the left side to

They seemed to especially steal from us, but other English publications were not exempt from this thievery. In an ironic twist they saw fit to steal a 2006 article from the Beijing Review on piracy in China. The author’s name is included (presumably because it was part of the text) but not the source.

China Expat sees the Confucius Institute’s actions as completely unjustified:

If China wants to shed its image as the wild-west of IPR, where stealing other people’s work is commonplace, it needs to shape up. Chinese often say that it is okay to buy copyrighted DVDs for 6 yuan because people here are poor and Hollywood is full of rich Americans. What can they say now that rich Chinese are stealing from poor foreigners?

China Expat quotes the Institute’s mission statement, listing one of its goals as “promoting greater understanding of Chinese culture” and remarks on it being “shameful” that when China “is making progress toward fixing the [intellectual property] problem … an organization making millions of dollars of year would choose to steal from a Hong-Kong based website that is only looking to promote China.”

29 responses to “Does Confucius Institute Say What’s Your IP Is My IP?”

  1. Mark Weaver —
    I know it is not looking too good for the Institute right now, but my legal training (and experience) has taught me not to “convict” until both sides have been heard. I have e-mailed the Institute and I am truly hoping they respond.

  2. Unfortunately, this is not isolated. There are a number of sites that I know of that have simply copy and pasted story with no reference at all.
    My favorite example of this was 5 years ago in Beijing when the China Daily did this with an article from the Onion. they actually defended the article at first at theirs before realizing that the Onion does not report news.. it mocks it.
    My recent pictures of the Shanghai port have made there way onto at least 3 sites no… no link back… no reference..
    What I love is that they have stolen from Chris, and that they do not realize he is someone you don’t mess with. Anyone in Shanghai remembers the add 2.5 years ago, and the lawsuit in HK, where he pulled apart a competitor over meta tags.
    Do people really that the world is that big anymore? do they not realize that we all run searches and include spelling errors so that we can identify the offenders?
    I am sure we would all love to see the posts taken down, but my 5+ years says that other arms of Chris’s empire will be brought into the game.

  3. Dan,
    You are right, and we have emailed the contact address on the site to see what their response is. Maybe there is some perfectly reasonable explanation, but until I hear it I have to be more than a little suspicious. I have consulted my staff and everyone says it was unauthorized.
    I noticed that there is also an entry from a blogger named “The China Expat” with whom I have exchanged emails in the past and have a good working relationship. They actually credit him, which they only did in one entry for us that I could find. Maybe he gave them permission, but I suspect they googled “China Expat” and worked down the list. We’ll see what they say.

  4. Well, it may turn out the institute has done nothing illegally. The Chinese copyright law does permit verbatim copy of copyrighted material for educational purpose. From the look of it, it seems that the web site’s jurisdiction is in China and the institute is a non-profit educational institute.

  5. David Li —
    Interesting point. I pulled this from Article 22 of China’s copyright code (not even sure this is the current version and with Steve on the road, I do not have instant access to the official Chinese):
    Article 22 In the following cases, a work may be exploited without permission from, and without payment of remuneration to, the copyright owner, provided that the name of the author and the title of the work shall be mentioned and the other rights enjoyed by the copyright owner by virtue of this Law shall not be prejudiced:
    (3) reuse or citation, for any unavoidable reason, of a published work in newspapers, periodicals, at radio stations, television stations or any other media for the purpose of reporting current events;
    (4) reprinting by newspapers or periodicals, or rebroadcasting by radio stations, television stations, or any other media, of articles on current issues relating to politics, economics or religion published by other newspapers, periodicals, or broadcast by other radio stations, television stations or any other media except where the author has declared that the reprinting and rebroadcasting is not permitted;
    (6) translation, or reproduction in a small quantity of copies, of a published work for use by teachers or scientific researchers, in classroom teaching or scientific research, provided that the translation or reproduction shall not be published or distributed;
    (7) use of a published work, within proper scope, by a State organ for the purpose of fulfilling its official duties;
    Might CI qualify under any of these (or any other) exception?
    Yet another reason to put away the noose?

  6. Chris D-E —
    Not sure it is illegal, but certainly there is something morally wrong with taking something someone else has done and not giving that person full credit. Certainly a violation of blogging etiquette.
    It will be interesting to see how this is handled and you are right about it maybe having been an underling.

  7. Chris D-E (ii) —
    I remember the first time someone (non-Chinese) did this to me. I was apopletic as well. But over time, I came to realize that the guy who copied my entire post as his own was absolutely no threat to me whatsoever and I turned out to be right as he was, not unsurprisingly, off the web within a couple of months. Who is going to bother reading a copycat and how much can a copycat have to say anyway, if he or she feels the need to take?

  8. Hi Chris,
    Not a lawyer here but Dan is so I will let him speak of the legal side. I was just trying to point out that it may not be illegal for the CI to do so.
    Then, there is a moral argument of Confucian and IPR. If Confucius was alive today, will he stand on the side of Lawrence Lessig (Creative Common) and Richard Stallman (Free Software) or on the side of RIAA and MPAA on the debate of the current state of IPR?
    Confucius broke the caste ranking for the access to education; thus knowledge. He’s pretty clear on the entitlement of education for anyone who wants it. I’d say if he’s alive toady, he’s likely to be more on the “Information wants to be freed” side.
    The morality based on Confucian may be inclined toward spreading the knowledge then protecting the IPR. IPR may be immoral looking through the eyes of a Confucian philosopher.

  9. My first response is to take the notary officers to record both the CI’s pages and the Expat’s articles.
    Then, ask CI to pay. (David Li’s analysis of the code is correct, but not in this case.)

  10. I’ve had the same problem with the online newsletter
    They ripped off content from our site ( and published it without any credit in their newsletters (that’s commercial use).
    I emailed them about it, and here’s what they replied:
    Dear Sir:
    Sincerely thank you for your message.We apologize for this problem. We can delete it immediately or we can put a link to your website after each listing. It is your choice so please let me know ASAP what you want us to do.
    We are making very sure this happens not again because we are changing immediately our Dalian info person. We do not condone this activity and we are taking steps to make sure it does not happen again. I will doublecheck more of new content in the future, and while it’s difficult to always ensure our contacts’ information and that bars don’t provide us write-ups seen elsewhere, I will do my best. If problem exists again in the future please contact me immediately.
    Another idea is we can post each week some of your bar descriptions and have links back to your longer bar listing. We can say something like “For a detailed list of Dialn hangouts and bars, please visit xxxx”. Please let me know if this is something you are interested in working with us on.
    Sincerely yours,
    They did indeed put links up after the information they ripped off, but then the very next week, there was more information in other sections of the newsletter without links to attribute credit. Not to mention, information taken from other Dalian sites. Sentences copied word for word.
    It’s like beating your head against a brick wall…

  11. I got the email from Josh too — then proceeded to find out there’s at least five (if not a whole lot more buried further in the archives) articles straight out lifted from – frustrating to say the least.

  12. Well, if’s server is in the US, and I think there are a few Confucian Institutes in the US, does that mean that Josh Gartner could go after the organization in US court?
    Sue, sue, sue.

  13. Chris,
    “just taking it, not asking for permission, not crediting it and generally passing it all off as your own work. Or is this “An ancient Chinese tradition and as a foreigner I won’t understand” ?
    That’s how ShiJi was compiled? ūüėČ Taking existing content, compile them and stick a new name?
    I understand your argument for your investment in those articles but you don’t invest those money with hope that everyone play by the IPR rule to pay you. You have your business model to recoup your investment in place already. If you don’t, there is more to Confucian Institute’s piracy you need to worry about.
    Not to justify what Confucian Institute is doing. I think the lack of attribution is a bit shady. But they probably break no law and hurt nobody. Ok, Josh had to take valium but hey, bro, share the wealth!
    Disclaimer: My view on the IPR is extremely biased. I have been working on Free Software (open source) for 17 years and exclusively for the past 7. I only take on works which produce programs to be distributed freely without restriction. I get paid decently and my customers are getting their return. I benefit from the free programs built by others and hopefully others from mine. Patent is evil, DRM is immoral and copyright is only good as a legal mean to ensure free distribution of my program.

  14. Interesting — I’ve had Linese (among other sites) post articles in their entirety from my Chinese blog before, but as (a) it seemed to be in the context of someone’s personal blog devoted to foreigners blogging in Chinese as a second language, and (b) nobody actually reads Linese anyway, I just let the matter drop.

  15. David,
    Regarding Confucius morality and the Creative Common/Free Software approach, it is my understanding that even with OSS, users must have access to the source code. So, if you treat China Expat’s articles as OSS and therefore subject redistribution to other users, it does not release the redistributor from source acknowledgement.
    Also, taken from a purely educational institution approach, “do not plagiarize” is rule number 1, right? Though my experience with academic papers in China (and other parts of Asia) has shown me that this a rule that is a work in progress.

  16. Re Rick’s comment above – sounds typical. I used to work for a little newspaper here, and the editors were just stupidly incompetent. This was because they were students doing it part time with no training. When things got too bad, they would be fired, and replaced by another student with no training. Not once did it occur to the management to put themselves to the effort of training the recruits. I ended up providing some pointers myself before I got sick of the whole thing.
    State run organizations can be pretty inert everywhere in the world. I can only imagine how politicized the Confucius Institute is (China’s international face, don’t you know), so I’m sure it’s full of overpaid party hacks who need to be… no, I’d better not.

  17. Chris D-E, Dan, et al:
    The Confucian Institutes around the world are not designed to promote Confucian values or teach Confucianism in their entirety. Confucianism has alot of stern words for wayward rulers and abuse of power.
    In the same way that Islam has been hijacked, edited and the Koran is roughly 40% ignored in the name of power and control, Confucianisms is also ignored, edited, and ironically given “chinese characteristics” in the name of spreading CCP propaganda.
    When you go to a Confucian institute, you are not learning all of the sage’s teachings and their relevance to modern life like a Buddhist temple, you are learning obedience, filality and how to conduct proper behavior and thinking as directed by the CCP.

  18. What’s interesting is that I’d be extremely happy if someone took my blog, copied it verbatim, and took credit for it. The differences in the dynamics of the situation is interesting. What happens in a lot of situations is that reputation breeds power, money, and influence. If you have a well-known blog, you get more money, power, and influence, and so reputation is extremely important.
    I’m in a situation where for legal/regulatory reasons being linked to a blog or an idea could get me into serious trouble (and the Catch-22 sometimes is that I have to be careful even explaining the issue). So if there were some way of removing attribution from my ideas and then promoting them, I’d be quite ecstatic.
    To give you some idea of the problem. What probably happened with the Confucius Institute is that someone junior who didn’t know better did a copy and paste. You’ll usually find that the people that actually do the grunt work in these places to be idealistic people fresh out of school. So by doing this, he gets the Confucius Institute and then by implication the Chinese government in trouble.
    This is precisely the sort of thing that my employer is worried about, that I say something off the top of my head, and then they get blamed for it.

  19. First up, I thought the Confucius Institutes were about spreading Chinese language and culture, not Confucianism specifically, and not from a Confucian base necessarily, so I don’t see the relevance of Confucianism to this issue. So far as I can see, the Confucius Institute is subject to the exact same law as all of us in the PRC, which brings me to this bit from Article 22 as posted in the comment by CLB above:
    “In the following cases, a work may be exploited without permission from, and without payment of remuneration to, the copyright owner, provided that the name of the author and the title of the work shall be mentioned and the other rights enjoyed by the copyright owner by virtue of this Law shall not be prejudiced:”
    And in particular this clause: “provided that the name of the author and the title of the work shall be mentioned”
    Now, I’m just an English teacher with no kind of experience of or training in law, but reading that it seems to me that had the Confucius Institute acknowledged the source of its articles it would’ve been in the clear.

  20. Confucian Plagarism
    From China Law Blog, I learn how the Confucius Institute Online is taking whole articles without attribution from another web site, China Expat. In the comments at China Law Blog the possibility has been raised that such plagiarism is inherent

  21. “So – how Confucian IS the Confucius Institute ? So far they haven’t bothered to reply to anyone about this. Arrogance ? Stupidity ?”
    It has nothing to do with Confucism, everything to do with propaganda. Chris, I’m sure you are more than aware of how much trouble middle aged pensioners have gotten into by assembling and quoting Mao’s teachings about how to deal with corrupt leaders, morals in gov’t, etc that are in the little red book. And twofish is probably even more than aware.
    Notice a pattern?
    Who else has noticed Hu’s more frequent wearing of a Mao suit and being addressed as “Chairman Hu”?

  22. I thought Confucianism was all about only caring about yourself, your relatives and friends. From the Confucean perspective, there is nothing wrong with what they did.

  23. Confucius Institute Comes Clean On China IP
    I did a post the other day, entitled, “Does Confucius Institute Say What’s Your IP Is Mine,” regarding the Confucius Institute’s website being accused of taking articles from other sites without attribution. I am happy to report that the Confucius Inst…

  24. I can understand the headache of this occuring. I can even understand the call to action. Perhaps, all of the commenters writing to the concept of differing legal norms are partly correct?
    Law is not just a collection of statutes. International law in partiucular is more of a moral norm. The real crux of this is whether the Chinese government will do anything. If it chooses not to, or chooses to, then that is the national law. That is only one part of the international law. The other factors include: the moral norm, the international treaties, scholarly works (perhaps this blog is one), and the common practice.
    In the case of Chinese comparative law, I think it is best to first look to the national treatment of IP laws. Here, in China, IP is not an absolute exclusive right, as it is in the US, and some other countries; it is a guideline right. That is to bestow upon the writer a moral right to at some future point have justice, perhaps in the anals of history or when some great acclaim or honor is bestowed upon the work. I think the Chinese people, and including the CI here, would be aggressive in promoting giving credit where credit is due, and this is the kicker, when it is due. Until, these copied articles gather some acclaim, I don’t see the national law limiting them from doing this, because they have not done so yet(NOTE: I am being realist here, and including government officals and courts).
    I think we will find that China is often more respected around the world than the US. If we fear the legal strong arm of the US, we respect the moral soft touch of China. So, let it be said, if not elsewhere, but at least by me, that perhaps the US should change its views, rather than China.

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