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Copyright watchdog backs missive writer's auction protest

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-05-30 10:55

BEIJING - China's copyright authorities have voiced support for a centenarian who urged a halt to an upcoming auction involving private missives written by her and her late husband, Qian Zhongshu, a renowned Chinese literary scholar.

"Auctioning Qian's private letters may lead to the infringement of the rights of property, authorship, privacy and reputation... We support the copyright owner to protect her rights in accordance with law and will keep tracking the event," Yu Cike, a senior official with the National Copyright Administration, said on Wednesday.

The controversial auction was announced by the Beijing-based auction company Sungari and involves 110 letters and manuscripts written in the 1980s by Qian, his wife Yang Jiang and their late daughter Qian Yuan.

With the auction scheduled for late June, the plan triggered vehement protest from Yang, now 102 and herself a literary scholar.

In a statement released on May 26, she said she was "hurt and shocked" by the publicity and potential trade of the "most intimate personal communications" as commodities, threatening to bring the matter to court if the auction should be held.

"Those composing the missives are their copyright owners, and auction groups should not make any copyright-related use of such missives without the consent of copyright owners," Yu said, adding that publicizing the letters' contents may result in copyright infringement.

Yu cited the country's Copyright Law as saying that violators who publicize works without the consent of their copyright owners should, in accordance with the real situations, "stop violations, erase damages, apologize and offer compensations."

Backing Yang's petition, many law experts also called for a ban on auctions of private letters, adding the fact that many letters and manuscripts were suitable for auction is because their contents are not deemed as private.

Meanwhile, many fear that Yang will encounter many difficulties before successfully blocking the auction as ensuing holders of these missives and manuscripts, which have been handed back and forth many times, might claim to be their rightful owners themselves, and thus, have the right to auction them.

Further complicating the matter, auction companies are usually only responsible for their clients and don't necessarily have to verify the copyright status of auction items.

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