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Chinese writer Mo Yan's Nobel Prize in literature has led to Mo-mania sweeping the nation, but as publishers rush to reprint the laureate's works, confusion reigns over the copyright status of his books.
In a bid to curb piracy, Beijing Genuine and Profound Culture Development Co, the claimed copyright holder of Mo's work, announced on Monday the details of Mo's copyright, and released Mo's letter of authority on the company to beat piracy, which had been witnessed by officials from the State and the Beijing municipal copyright authorities.
The company's legal representative said they are aware that there are dozens of versions of Mo's books on the market, and 15 publishers claim to have the right to Mo's works, including the digital rights. "Most of which are unauthorized, and we are yet to collect more evidence to take legal action," said Chen Zhongye, Guantao Law Firm partner.
As bookstores and online sellers report that they are out of stock, reflecting domestic readers' increasing demand for the laureate's books, publishers are eager to cash in on the surge in interest surrounding Mo.
Genuine and Profound Culture says it signed with Mo in May for the full rights to his work, physical and digital, including his back catalogue, any work in progress, and the right to recommend Mo's work to overseas publishers, as well as all the rights regarding copyright protection.
"In respect to publishing Mo abroad, we have the right to recommend works to interested foreign publishers and to help Mo with analysis and decision," said Chen Liming, president of the company.
"Only a small portion of the titles being sold are within the terms of previous contracts Mo signed with them (other publishers). Some are reprinting even if the contract has expired," Chen added.
Shanghai Literature and Arts Press, which has been publishing Mo since the 1980s, says it holds copyright for 16 of Mo's works.
"We got the authorization in the very early days, and it's still valid," Cao Yuanyong, deputy editor-in-chief of the press, told Shanghai media.
Cao said the reason two publishers claim the same titles is that Mo never promised any publisher exclusive rights.
Genuine and Profound Culture's Chen said he knows the situation with the Shanghai press, and said he hopes there will be more cooperation on publication and copyright protection.
Zhao Hu, legal expert with Beijing H&J Law Firm, told Beijing Business Today that the chaos is understandable because 30 years ago, when Mo first started publishing, there was a lack of awareness among writers, readers and publishers regarding copyright.
"Now that China's Copyright law is being perfected, and the country joined international copyright conventions in the 1990s, things have changed, and the disputes are almost avoidable with the proper contracts," Zhao said.
On Monday, Genuine and Profound Culture's president Chen showed the public an authorization handwritten by Mo, asking the company to fight piracy on his behalf.
Wang Zhicheng, an official with the State Copyright Administration, said on Monday that he is hoping the publishing mania surrounding Mo's works is a chance to further raise the awareness of copyright protection.
As Mo's authorized copyright holder, Genuine and Profound has released Mo's first publication after the Nobel win - Our Jing Ke, a collection of scripts. The publisher is also planning to release a 20-volume omnibus together with the Writers Press.
"With four new unpublished works joining the omnibus, and with all published ones revised by Mo himself, it will be the newest and most complete collection of Mo released so far," said Chen.