Wang Xu and Liu Gang, members of singing duo Xuriyanggang, sing in Beijing in this Dec 1, 2010 file photo. [Photo/Xinhua]
BEIJING - Xuriyanggang, a singing duo described by some critics as China's hottest grassroots duo, has been stopped from performing their signature song by the tune's composer, triggering a heated public debate about the country's copyright laws.
Wang Xu, 44, and 29-year-old Liu Gang, two migrant workers who live in the capital, moved tens of millions of viewers during the Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television (CCTV) recently with their rendition of the song In The Spring.
The show is one of the most-watched television events in the world.
However, the popular performance is unlikely to be repeated because Chinese rock star Wang Feng, the original singer and composer of the song, has banned the pair from singing it in the future.
"The reason why I allowed them to sing my song at the beginning was to help them, but I have to stop it after finding out my kindness was being abused," said Wang Feng.
He said on his blog on Friday that his company had suggested to Xuriyanggang on several occasions in the buildup to the Spring Festival Gala that they sing one of their own songs but he said they continued to use his song at various events, including commercial shows.
On Friday night, Xuriyanggang posted their apologies to Wang Feng on their micro blog and admitted they knew little about rules of the showbusiness.
"No matter what, we both owe a debt of gratitude to teacher Wang Feng," wrote Liu.
Wang Xu added: "We understand and respect Wang Feng's decision. We appreciate his help and encouragement to us in the past and feel sorry for all the trouble."
Last year, Xuriyanggang was invited to appear as guest performers at one of Wang Feng's concerts in Shanghai, which helped them become more popular.
According to Wang Rong, Wang Xu's temporary assistant, the appearance fee charged by Xuriyanggang has climbed to 50,000 yuan ($7,900) for a show since their performance at the Spring Festival Gala catapulted them to stardom.
Wang Feng's attitude in trying to keep the song he wrote for himself has created an online storm in China. Some netizens have described him as narrow-minded and selfish while others have said he is just protecting his rights.
"I like both Wang Feng and Xuriyanggang. This is a win-win situation because it both protects Wang's great efforts and lets Xuriyanggang know that they should have their own songs," wrote a netizen using the name Zhuidix on a micro blog on sina.com.cn.
"This controversy reminds people about the importance of copyrights in the music industry," said Liu Ping, deputy director general of the Music Copyright Society of China. "Obviously, music writers care more about their rights when the industry is not so profitable these days."
The song In The Spring is protected by China's Copyright Law, said Liu Ping. As the owner of the copyright, Wang Feng has the right to decide who gets to sing it.
The duo sang the song possibly for the last time in public during the semi-final of Star Road, a talent show sponsored by CCTV that was aired on Saturday night.
Xuriyanggang won the show with their effort but one of the judges seemed to join those urging the duo to come up with their own material.
"I wish you can have your 'summer', your 'autumn' and your 'winter' and not only have 'In The Spring'," said the talent judge named Li Liqun.
The two migrant workers began their rise to stardom after singing the tearjerker during an evening drinking session in a 6-square-meter rented room.
A friend recorded them singing on a mobile phone and uploaded it to the Internet where netizens praised their singing and made them online sensations.
The song In the Spring is seen by many critics and fans as a portrait of a migrant worker's life. Wang Xu said the song reflected their lives and roles in society.
"We'll still be down-to-earth in the future and, one day, we will have our own song," said Wang Xu.
(China Daily 02/14/2011 page5)