The Beijing Intellectual Property Court, the first of its kind in China, opens on November 6, 2014. Photo: VCG
China has been strengthening the protection and use of intellectual property rights (IPR) to develop intellectual property and encourage innovation since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Special IPR courts established in 2014 in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai have brought about significant improvements. China has also begun a campaign to protect the IPR of foreign companies, focusing on malicious trademark registration and imitation of foreign brands.
Ask Chinese netizens about the greatest change to have taken place in the Internet's development in recent years, and you're most likely to get the answer "the era of free content is over."
Analysts said piracy has tainted the burgeoning Internet economy, an increasingly vital component of the Chinese economy, and the country's efforts in killing this pest will eventually help bring a virtuous cycle into the market.
Years ago, along with the boom in the Internet industry, Chinese netizens could freely and conveniently download resources, such as music, news, movies and books.
However, the era of free content seems to have come to an end, accompanied by the closure of free e-books websites, the cancellation of free music downloads, and the removal of free audio and visual resources.
"This National Day holiday, I had planned to download some music for my travels; however, most of my favorite songs were banned from being downloaded through music software … the era of free content is over!" a resident surnamed Li from Shanxi Province told the Global Times.
All the changes were attributed to the country's greater efforts in protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, as behind the "free lunch" was rampant online piracy, which had dealt a blow to content providers and operators.
China has been strengthening the protection and use of intellectual property rights in a bid to develop intellectual property and encourage innovation. According to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), China will improve rules and regulations related to intellectual property rights in newly-emerged fields including Internet Plus, e-commerce and big data.
Recently, two of China's most popular video platforms and leading animation, comic and game websites, Bilibili and AcFun, temporarily removed most of the overseas TV shows and films uploaded by users as part of an inspection of online video content. Despite the unclear explanation given for the removal, some industry experts said the content may have been culled due to copyright protection issues.
Moreover, as problems such as the unreasonable vying for exclusive copyrights, bidding up of licensing prices and use of music without permission have emerged, with the support of music companies, China's National Copyright Administration launched a campaign in 2015 to regulate online music copyright, requiring online streaming services to stop providing unlicensed music to users.
The same campaign was also applied to online literature after a 2015 White Paper on China Internet Literature Copyright Protection produced by consulting company iResearch showed that piracy of Internet literature had led to 7.7 billion yuan ($1.18 billion) in lost subscriptions in 2014. In May 2016, Chinese tech giant Baidu closed a number of its forums related to online novels to "better protect authorized copies and safeguard authors' rights."
More and more netizens who had become used to downloading free e-books also found that websites providing free services were shut down in quick succession.
"I never expected the IPR protection campaign to be so serious. Recently, the Beijing Founder Electronic Co Ltd, which invented FounderType, requested that I pay several thousand yuan for using its font without authorization. To avoid paying the compensation, I had to take down all the goods at my store and re-decorated the pictures with authorized fonts," a Taobao store owner surnamed Yao told the Global Times.
Yao said she and other Taobao store owners had used FounderType's fonts for over 10 years and had never had any complaints.
"It shows that China is fighting against copyright infringement seriously. In terms of legislation, China has been completing its copyright law, trademark law and even included commercial secrets as part of intellectually property rights, making IPR a priority in the legislation field," Xu Xinming, a Beijing-based lawyer who specializes in IPR, told the Global Times.
In the past five years, China passed 14 laws and regulations on IPR and signed 171 cooperation agreements with 63 countries, regions and international organizations, reported Xinhua.
Moreover, constant updates of judicial interpretation of IPR and stricter enforcement also guarantee the implementation of the laws, said Xu.
According to a report of china.com.cn in April, China's courts heard more than 130,000 IPR cases in 2016. IPR courts were also established in 2014 in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai and have brought about significant improvements.
The Xinhua report said that from January 2014 to November 2016, more than 13,400 people were arrested for IPR crimes, citing the Supreme People's Procuratorate. Over 24,000 people were prosecuted for violating IPR during the same period.
Xu added that the effects of better law enforcement and a tougher stance on IPR in China have been obvious to people at home and overseas.
Recently, a US-headquartered chipmaker set up a joint venture with an investment of 1.85 billion yuan together with the provincial government of Guizhou in Southwest China for the design, development and sale of advanced server chipset technology.
The US tech giant and local government also agreed to set up a holding company in the province to manage its investment in Chinese market, the People's Daily reported.
"We have seen China's determination to protect intellectual property after its implementation of national intellectual property strategy," Mark Snyder, Senior Vice President of Qualcomm Incorporated, told the daily.
In September, 12 government departments launched a joint action plan focusing on malicious trademark registration and imitation of foreign brands.
From September to December, the campaign will also target infringement of online IPRs, patent rights and plant variety rights, as well as industrial espionage, according to the plan, said Xinhua.