One Area Where China Should Definitely Stop Ripping Off The West: Copyright Law
from the repeating-our-mistakes dept
When it comes to ACTA and TPP, China is the elephant in the room -- or maybe that should be the dragon in the room. For without China's participation, these treaties designed to reduce counterfeiting will have little effect. And despite rather desperate optimism on the part of some that China will rush to sign up, its comments so far suggest otherwise.
A crucial factor here is China's own copyright framework, since this will inevitably color its perception of the terms of any treaty that it might sign. That makes the outcome of a planned third revision of its copyright laws highly pertinent to the fate of treaties like ACTA and TPP. A paper reviewing the current proposals, written by Hong Xue, Director of the Institute for Internet Policy & Law at Beijing Normal University, provides some valuable insights into the likely evolution of China's copyright law. Unfortunately, the signs are not good:
the Draft fails to review several misconceptions, such as "the more the better" (more copyright protection and enforcement, the better economic growth and social development), "one size fits all" and "modeling on US law" (on draconic enforcement rather than general and robust limitations and exceptions). It is unfortunately that China, the largest country by both population and Internet users, despite its fast-growing economy, seems keeping on the old track and missing the opportunities to revamp its Copyright Law in the new century.
In the area of limitations and exceptions, the latest draft makes things worse than today's rules:
According to the [current] Copyright Law, anyone may use a work for personal study, research and appreciation. The Draft, however, restrict the scope of private use to "making one copy of a work for personal study and research." It is annoying to exclude from the private use personal "appreciation", which is inherently hard to distinct from personal study and research, particularly on the Internet. It is even more worrisome to restrict private use to reproduction of a work. Under the Copyright Law, use of a work may include reproduction, translation, adaptation (such as remix or sampling), as far as the use is private. The Draft, however, only allows for reproduction and restricts to one copy.
That's crazy at a time when more and more people are using digital content in new ways that include precisely these things like remixing, sampling and adapting.
There's also bad news on the DRM front, which seems closely modeled on the US DMCA:
The biggest defect in this regard is that the Draft fails to address whether technological measures may be circumvented for the specified circumstances of limitations and exceptions to rights. For example, it is unclear under the Draft whether a user may circumvent a copy-protection measure on a work so as to make a single copy of work for personal study or research.
That's clearly a crucial issue. If circumvention is not allowed, then once again DRM can effectively take away what few rights users are granted in this area.
Finally, China also appears to be following the US in bringing in harsher copyright enforcement and disproportionate damages:
Copyright enforcement is tremendously enhanced under the Draft. Regarding civil remedies, damages could be several times of licensing fees if right holder’s actual loss and infringer’s illegal gains cannot be determined.
All-in-all, it looks like China has learned nothing from the West's mistakes. Instead, it seems to have taken the misguided view that if the West did it, China must do the same to "catch up". As the paper quoted above emphasizes, this is only a draft, and can still be modified. But based on what it already contains and the fact that organizing resistance against new laws in China is not the easiest of tasks, it looks increasingly likely that China too will be entering a period of copyright maximalism, with all the negative consequences for the Chinese public -- and possibly the world -- that this implies.