Does Story Plot Plagiarism Constitute Copyright Infringement in China?

(By You Yunting) Introduction to the Case:

In the first half of 2014, Palace 3: the Lost Daughter is a 2014 Chinese historical television series written and produced by Yu Zheng. In April 2014, a Taiwanese writer Chiung Yao made a letter claimed that Palace 3: the Lost Daughter (the “disputed show) was based on her novel Plum Blossom Scar (the “reference novel”), but Yu Zheng delayed. On May 28, 2014, Chiung Yao filed a lawsuit, claiming that Yu Zheng was unauthorized to copy her original core plot, recompose the disputed drama and produce and broadcast the disputed show with another 4 defendants. Chiung Yao thought that Yu Zheng had seriously violated her right of adaptation and cinematization, causing great mental damage, and requested Yu Zheng to immediate stop infringement, eliminate influences, make an apology and compensation of RMB 20 million for economic loss.

Upon the trial, the court held the following:

1   In terms of literary works, it is hard to draw a direct conclusion over some plots and source material that are not similar to each other or belongs to public areas if compared with each other independently. But if making a comparison integrally, it will be conducive to find out the similarity on the structures of two works. Character design, plot structure, and internal logic rearrangement that is specific enough are protected by the copyright law.

2   Even if the use of specific scenario, limited expression and known material is not restricted by the copyright law, this does not mean that based on the above-mentioned materials, an original works will be automatically classified into specific scenario, limited expression and known material. The whole materials that contain the character sets and their relationship, scenario, plots and internal logic rearrangement shall be protected by the copyright law.

3   The disputed show is similar in plot rearrangement and its deduction process with the reference novel. In combination with the similar specific plot and its settings, the disputed show constituted similarity from the overall appearance of the reference novel, leading to the similar experience. It can conclude that the plot in the disputed show has a sourcing relation with the reference novel and thus the disputed show indeed existed a fact of adapting the reference novel.

Lawyer’s Comment:

The result of judgment in this case seems conforming to the public knowledge. Because I haven’t watched the disputed show, but some of my friends thought that Palace 3: the Lost Daughter copied Plum Blossom Scar.

In the term of the amount of compensation, RMB 5 million is an outrageous amount of money in intellectual property cases, but indeed is not a high amount, because it occupied only a small percentage of licensed fees. However, this case which obtained a certain influence, broke through the past judgment standard, actually demonstrating the improving strength of a crackdown on intellectual property infringement.

Upon legal profession, the protection of an idea is different from that of expression in the copyright law. Idea refers to the thought of a script while expression means the specific content of the script. In the past, determination of plagiarism shall be on the fundamental conformity of specific expression, such as the two detailed contents are fundamentally identical. However, with regard to the plot, many past judgment held that it belongs to idea and should not be fallen in the scope of the copyright law.

This judgment made a breakthrough over the protection standard. However, breakthrough input a risk. Even though it enlarges the scope of intellectual property protection, it also makes the plot, traditionally in the public domain, fall into the protection of copyright, causing damages to free creation. Many works learning from previous works will be at the risk of being sued.

The judgment is made by the first instance. According to the Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, if a party disagrees with a judgment made by the first instance and appeals, the judgment does not take effect. However, in this case, defendant Yu Zheng had appealed. Therefore, the final result of this case shall be relied on the judgment made by the second instance.

Lawyer Contacts

You Yunting86-21-52134918

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