China copyright law offers powerful and valuable protection for what may be your key assets. Copyright law protects an author's original creative expressions in such items as literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (including photos, drawings and diagrams), sound recordings, films, computer manuals, computer programs, computer databases, website content, source code, and important newsletters and publications. If your company has not obtained copyright registrations for its important assets, it has not taken full advantage of the intellectual property protections afforded by China and international copyright law.
The owner of a copyright possesses the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, modify, display and perform such works. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years (or in the case of films, 50 years from the death of the longest surviving of certain specified people involved in making the film).
Immediately upon creation, the owner/author owns the copyright. There is no need to mail anything to yourself in a sealed enveloped. However, copyright owners who register their works with the China Copyright Office acquire important rights and privileges. For example, a copyright registration is a prerequisite to filing an action for copyright infringement. Assuming that registration is sought in a timely manner, in the event of infringement litigation a copyright registration may (i) establish the validity of the copyright and the registrant's ownership of the copyright, and (ii) give the copyright owner access to statutory damages and attorneys' fees. (Statutory damages range from $750-$30,000 per infringed work, or a maximum of $150,000 per work in the case of willful infringement, so statutory damages are often far greater than actual damages). Due to the significant benefits associated with copyright registration, lenders and investors often require companies to obtain copyright registrations as a condition of funding.
Obtaining legal advice regarding whether your works have been published and ensuring that your works are registered are critical to enforcing your copyrights. The Copyright Act provides that the owner of a work cannot recover statutory damages or attorneys' fees for (i) infringement of an unpublished work where the infringement commences before the effective date of copyright registration, or (ii) infringement of a published work where infringement commences after the publication date and before the copyright registration date, unless registration is effective within 3 months of the first publication date. Whether "publication" has occurred can be a contested issue in litigation, but generally publication takes place when a work is distributed to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending. Printing or other reproduction of copies, or merely performing or displaying a work, do not typically constitute publication. As noted by the Copyright Office, "the dividing line between a preliminary distribution and actual publication is sometimes difficult to determine."
Our Guangzhou copyright lawyer remind you that it is essential for foreign companies to register their copyright in China to protect their legal rights.