Chinese Market Q&A #3: Piracy


In my previous post, I briefly touched upon the problem of piracy. This is arguably the biggest concern many (if not the great majority of) authors have whenever the issue of going to the Chinese market is raised.

Indeed, we have seen enough cases in recent years where anything and everything published in the West (particularly online) is immediately translated and distributed (mainly online) in China, with or without the original source being mentioned. On the one hand, this illustrates how serious the piracy problem is in China. Thanks to, we now have an English translation of China’s Copyright Law, whose Article 22 stipulates that:

“In the following cases, a work may be used without permission on form, and without payment of remuneration to, the copyright owner, provided that the name of the author and the title of the work are mentioned and the other rights enjoyed by the copyright owner in accordance with this Law are not prejudiced:

(1) use of another person’s published work for purposes of the user’s own personal study, research or appreciation;

(2) appropriate quotation from another person’s published work in one’s own work for the purpose of introducing or commenting a certain work, or explaining a certain point;

(3) unavoidable inclusion or quotation of a published work in the media, such as in a newspaper, periodical and radio and television program, for the purpose of reporting current events;

(4) publishing or rebroadcasting by the media, such as a newspaper, periodical, radio station and television station, of an article published by another newspaper or periodical, or broadcast by another radio station or television, etc. on current political, economic or religious topics, except where the author declares that such publishing or rebroadcasting is not permitted;

(5) publishing or broadcasting by the media, such as a newspaper, periodical, radio station and television station of a speech delivered at a public gathering, except where the author declares that such publishing or broadcasting is not permitted;

(6) translation, or reproduction in a small quantity of copies of a published work by teachers or scientific researchers for use in classroom teaching or scientific research, provided that the translation or the reproductions are not published for distribution;

(7) use of a published work by a State organ to a justifiable extent for the purpose of fulfilling its official duties;

(8) reproduction of a work in its collections by a library, archive, memorial hall, museum, art gallery, etc. for the purpose of display, or preservation of a copy, of the work;

(9) gratuitous live performance of a published work, for which no fees are charged to the public, nor payments are made to the performers;

(10) copying, drawing, photographing or video-recording of a work of art put up or displayed in an outdoor public place;

(11) translation of a published work of a Chinese citizen, legal entity or other organization from Han language into minority nationality language for publication and distribution in the country; and

(12) translation of a published work into braille for publication.”

Because the Internet is very much considered as part of “the media”, anything you have published online is likely to be translated into Chinese and published in China’s cyberspace as long as whoever does so claims it is “for teaching and/or scientific research purposes” and the translation “is not published for distribution” — with the latter generally interpreted as being “published in print for distribution for profit”. This is exactly the answer I received from an established Chinese publisher when I questioned their full translation and publishing online of a series of contemporary writings by prominent Western authors, including Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s two recent reviews on Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, which were originally published by The Guardian.

So, realistically, would it be possible to stop people copying and distributing your Chinese editions? The short answer to this question is NO, you cannot stop people from copying and distributing your Chinese editions. If someone is willing and has the time, he or she can type out or scan the whole Chinese edition of your book and publish it online “for teaching and/or scientific research purposes” because it is “not published for distribution”. As long as they declare the book as yours, you can count yourself lucky.

The Chinese are an incredibly resourceful people, and many of them would do anything and everything to make money and lift their living standards, as long as they are not caught (note: this is different from “as long as it is within the law). Because many aspects of China’s Copyright Law are to be improved, and because law enforcement in China is yet to become 100% satisfying, breaking the law and being caught and punished for it are two completely different issues.

With this said, why would anyone still want to enter the Chinese market? Those seeing the cup half empty would say China’s piracy problem is intolerable, but those seeing the cup half full would say the piracy problem illustrates how desperate the Chinese readers are for fresh, diverse and quality content. The choice would be yours.


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