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Photographer Asks for Compensation

A 73-year-old Beijing photographer is suing the publishing arm of the People's Liberation Army over copyright infringement of pictures half a century old.

Meng Zhaorui took the Publishing House of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to court over six photos containing images of Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi -- founders of the People's Republic of China.

Meng claims that the six pictures, taken in the 1940s and 1950s, were used in six books without his permission, and the defendant neither paid nor credited Meng.

The case was heard at the No 1 Intermediate People's Court on Monday.

In court, Meng showed the original film of the photos and asked for compensation of 25,000 yuan (US$3,020).

The six photos record several historic events such as the Korean War (1950-53) and the founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

One of the photos is a group picture of Mao Zedong and Li Zongren, a senior leader of the Kuomintang; another one is of Liu Shaoqi and several PLA generals.

Meng said the six books were published at different times, the earliest in 1987.

"It means that the publishing house violated my copyright as early as 17 years ago," Meng told China Daily yesterday.

The lawyer on behalf of the defendant argued that Meng took these photos when he was an employee of the PLA Pictorial, and the publishing house has the right to use Meng's photos because the publishing house and the magazine all belong to the PLA circle.

However, Meng said priority of usage does not mean that the defendant can use his photos without informing or paying him.

The court did not rule on Monday.

The old photographer told China Daily that he is simultaneously engaged in several other lawsuits on copyright disputes against others.

He said two of the suits are expected to be heard at the No 2 Intermediate People's Court next month.

Meng said the violation of the copyright on news photos is very serious, especially on those old pictures.

"Zhang Jun, who took photos for Lei Feng 40 years before, gained copyright on his old pictures last year and his action, which aroused the public attention on copyright protection, sets a good example for us," said Meng.

Zhang chronicled the life of his fellow soldier Lei Feng -- who embodied various virtues in the 1960s China. His photos were plastered across the country's textbooks and schoolrooms for decades without any payment.

Zhang was granted copyright on the photos by the provincial government of Northeast China's Liaoning Province in June last year.

(China Daily April 28, 2004)

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