Copyright stands out from other intellectual property rights for the protections it enjoys without registration, including in China. For trademarks, the only pathway to protection for an unregistered mark in China is by meeting the narrow definition of a “well-known trademark.” By contrast, even works created outside of China (in countries party to the Berne Convention) enjoy copyright protection in the country, without the need for registration.
This said, there are good reasons for registering copyright in China in some cases. As a practical matter, enforcement of rights will be a lot harder (if not impossible) if the copyright owner lacks a Chinese registration. This true both in the context of government authorities and e-commerce platforms such as Taobao. Complicating matters is the fact that some countries, such as the UK, do not have a copyright registry.
In general, it is much more difficult to get Chinese authorities to conduct enforcement actions based on copyright than on trademark rights. Rightsholders who have discovered this for themselves may be thinking, why bother with copyrights at all?
First, there are products that do not really lend themselves to trademark protection. For example, imagine you manufacture stuffed animals. Your genuine products have a label attached to them that bears your trademark. However, a savvy and/or sloppy counterfeiter might make a version of the stuffed animal without that label. As a result, their fake product does not violate your trademark. Even if you have registered as a trademark an image of the stuffed animal, the stuffed animal itself is not a mark. By contrast, the stuffed animal itself can potentially be protected using copyright.
In addition, copyright registrations can help plug gaps left by trademarks that could not be registered, for example because of similarity to an existing mark. It is also worth noting that an existing copyright can be grounds to object to a trademark registration.
Have you had luck enforcing a foreign copyright in China? What are some of your success stories using copyright protection as part of your China toolkit?