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Beijing Man Sues Nike over Copyright

Claiming copyright infringement, a Beijing designer is suing Nike over a television ad broadcast around the world. The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court held the first hearing Thursday.

"The stickman in a recent advertisement of Nike pirated a logo of my serial Flash works," the 28-year-old Zhu Zhiqiang said.

Flash is computer software often used to design cartoon characters.

The famous sporting goods company denies the charge.

"The small man figure created by the plaintiff and his gestures are absolutely different from Nike's stickman," said Nike's lawyer Zhang Zaiping.

Zhu, who is famous under the screen name of Xiaoxiao on the Internet, is asking for 2 million yuan (US$240,000) in compensation from Nike as well as a public apology.

"Some friends told me last year that Nike had used my design in its advertisement overseas," he said. The ad was also broadcast by domestic television stations. "My commercial interest in the stickman, which was registered in 2000 for copyright protection, has been severely damaged due to Nike's illegal use."

Zhu said he was negotiating with a publisher to release a book based on the creation of his stickman when the Nike advertisement was first broadcast in Beijing last year. "Negotiation stopped due to the advertisement," he said.

"As one of the world's biggest sportswear producers, Nike is devoted to protection of IPR and respects others' rights," Zhang told the court on Thursday.

He said the Nike stickman was independently designed by advertising company Wieden & Kennedy in 2002. Nike spent some 25 million yuan (US$3 million) on the design.

"According to the agreement between Nike and the designer, Nike owns the copyright to the advertisement," Zhang said. "It is obvious that the plaintiff intended to promote himself and his flash designs by accusing a famous multinational company."

Zhu did not deny that claim yesterday, but said that Nike wants to use the logo to enhance the company's popularity among young people. Zhu's stickman is very popular with the younger set.

Zhu first started using the small stickman in 1989, when he was still a student, the indictment said. He is one of China's pioneer flash designers

"My flash works are so popular with netizens that I have received more than 30,000 letters from them since 2000," Zhu said.

Nike claims that Zhu's stickman cannot be protected by copyright because it lacks originality. The law defines originality as independent design, instead of copying others' works or images in the public domain, said Zhang.

"From mural and stone paintings in ancient times to Sherlock Holmes stories, this stick figure has been used repeatedly," he said.

(China Daily July 16, 2004)

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