BEIJING — China’s courts have had a busy Christmas week making noticeably public displays of their role at the frontline of the government’s war against infringement of intellectual property rights. Chinese officials, facing international censure over widespread piracy in the country, are keen to show how serious they are about combating counterfeiting and piracy.
A Beijing court has found Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service, a unit of the NASDAQ-listed Sohu.com, which operates some of China’s most popular Web portals, guilty of copyright infringement for posting digital files of motion pictures on the Sohu.com site for downloading without the consent of the copyright owners.
The court ordered the defendants pay damages and costs of yuan 1.2 million ($138,850) and to publish an acknowledgement of its infringements as well as a pledge to refrain from future infringements, according to a statement from the Motion Picture Assn.
The five plaintiffs, all members of the MPA, had accused Sohu of making titles such as “Dawn of the Dead,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “SWAT” available without the necessary authorizations to registered users of a subscription download service operated in 2004 and 2005 on its Sohu.com Web site.
Sohu.com is one of the three largest Web sites in China, with approximately 100 million registered users.
Five of the 10 movies named in the lawsuit had never been exhibited theatrically in China.
“The Motion Picture Assn. and our member companies are very pleased to see China’s courts firmly enforcing the country’s laws in relation to intellectual property theft and movie piracy,” said Mike Ellis, senior VP and regional director, Asia-Pacific, Motion Picture Assn.
“Our member companies have now concluded more than 15 civil actions in China and there are more than 35 others pending. The studios won’t hesitate to litigate, whenever appropriate, to enforce against the unauthorized use of their copyrights,” Ellis said.
On Dec. 22, a Shanghai court ruled that the Shanghai Di Kai AV Products Co. DVD retail outlet, located in the city’s central business district, was guilty of copyright infringement for selling pirated versions of MPA movies and ordered the defendant to desist from illegal sales of pirated movies and pay the six plaintiffs — again, all MPA member companies — damages and costs of $22,746, as well as a fine of $6,398.
The MPA reckons that member studios lost $6.1 billion to worldwide piracy in 2005, around $2.4 billion to bootlegging, $1.4 billion to illegal copying and $2.3 billion to Internet piracy. Around 1.2 billion came from piracy across the Asia-Pacific region, while piracy in the U.S. accounted for $1.3 billion.