Selling Your Software to China: Check Legality FIRST

A technology company contacted one of our China lawyers months after having started selling its software into China. This company came to us seeking help in deciding whether to continue selling its software from the United States or to form a China WFOE and start selling through that entity.

The first thing we told this company was that selling their software in China violated both China’s data privacy laws and U.S. export control laws and it should cease as quickly as possible. It had simply never occurred to this company that what it could sell legally in the United States would be illegal (on two counts, no less) for it to sell to China.

Before entering any international market, particularly one as different as China, companies should research and understand their legal compliance requirements. This is particularly true for technology companies because both China and the United States have laws focused on high technology.

The two sets of laws that tripped up this particular company are the two sets of laws we most frequently see American high tech companies ignoring at their peril when looking to sell into China: United States export control laws and China data protection laws.

Many know the United States prohibits product selling a wide range of products to countries like Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iran, but few seem to realize there are prohibitions on selling various products to China (and many other countries) as well. The Export Administration Regulations deal with selling software that may require a license or other exemption from the United States government. These regulations apply to software both physically shipped and electronically transmitted overseas. Whether a technology company requires an export license under EAR depends on the nature of its product, its intended use, its end-users, and the country to where it is being exported. Failing to comply with EAR can lead to civil penalties of up to USD $250,000 per violation and criminal penalties up to USD $1,000,000, plus up to twenty years of prison time per violation.

China data protection laws often come into play for American (and other foreign company) technology companies selling their product to China. China has strict data privacy and data security laws and it is critical you comply with them. Making compliance more difficult is the that China does not have not yet have a comprehensive law or regulation for personal information protection; this means you need to be aware of and research a whole host of laws to know whether what you are doing complies with Chinese law.

Bottom Line:  Do not ship or transmit your software or other technology product to China without first making sure it complies with both your own country’s laws and those of China.