Amidst an increasing wave of disputes over content posted on the Internet, the Supreme People's Court Thursday put into effect a judicial interpretation that provides legal protection of copyrights in digital form.
According to the judicial interpretation, copyright owners "have the right to use or permit others to use their works in a digital format, and must be paid for it."
Websites that display copyrighted content will not be judged as having violated the law as long as they obtain permission from and pay the owner of the copyright and give credit to the original author.
As dictated by the judicial interpretation,violations of digital format copyrights include basic plagiarism as well as intentional changing of any text or information that is part of the original copyrighted material.
The judicial interpretation comes at a time when the number of Internet users in China has soared to more than 29 million. A large portion of this group use the Internet to read books and listen to music, most of which is copyrighted.
China's current Copyright Law, which was promulgated in 1991, does not contain specific clauses to protect copyrights on the Internet.
Before Thursday's judicial interpretation, courts in China had been struggling with the issue of online infringement. Most courts upheld copyright protection on the Internet, citing the 10th clause in the Copyright Law, which contains the phrase "et cetera" at the end of a list of publishing forms it considers protected.This ambiguity in the law led the Beijing District People's Court to rule in September of last year that a local website had violated copyrights held by six renowned authors. The webite was ordered to pay compensation ranging from 720 yuan (US$87) to 13,080 yuan (US$1,576) for uploading articles written by the authors without permission.
Sources with the Supreme People's Court said the judicial interpretation aims at guaranteeing the uniformity of court decisions across China in cases of online copyright infringement.
The judicial interpretation permits courts to order offenders to remove unauthorized material from their websites and compensate the authors of that material.
The interpretation allows courts to decide the amount of compensation by calculating economic losses suffered by copyright owners or by estimating gains realized by the party that has published the copyrighted material without permission. The limit on compensation awards has been set at 500,000 yuan (US$60,000) when the loss can not be decided.
(China Daily 12/22/2000)