China / Hot Issues

Plagiarism row leads to call for stronger rules

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-17 02:54

Experts say that China's film and TV production industry should improve its self-regulation to better protect copyrights.

The ongoing dispute between Taiwan romance novelist Chiung Yao and mainland scriptwriter Yu Zheng, in which Chiung accused Yu of copying her works in his screenplays without permission, has drawn intense media coverage while sparking reflection of alleged plagiarism within the film and TV industry.

Screenwriters must stick to certain moral codes while re-creating TV plays based on existing works, and administrative authorities should pay more attention to copyright protection and punishing violators, pundits said.

Wang Hailin, vice-chairman of the Chinese Society of Film Literature, said on Wednesday, "The debate between Chiung and Yu reflects the reality in the industry that TV producers tend to take shortcuts by over-borrowing scripts or plots to make sensational but seemingly familiar plays, due to the lack of strong supervision and copyright protection."

On Tuesday, Chiung posted an online letter to China's TV copyright authority in which she said that the screenplay of the popular on-air TV drama The Palace: The Lost Daughter, written by Yu, is partially based on her sentimental novel Mei Hua Lao, which was made into a TV series with the same name in 1992.

Chiung pointed out five major similarities between the main characters and plots between the two works, and urged the authority to investigate Yu's alleged infringements while protecting her copyrights.

Yu responded on his micro blog on Tuesday that all the alleged similarities were "unintentional coincidences".

Yu also stressed that the script of The Palace: The Lost Daughter was presented to Shanghai-based New Image Entertainment, founded by Chiung, for examination before shooting and was approved by the company.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which received Chiung's complaint, was not available for comment when approached by China Daily on Wednesday.

Hunan Satellite TV is still airing the series although Chiung's daughter-in-law and agent, He Xiuqiong, has provided evidence of copyright infringement and urged the TV station to stop broadcasting it.

Such allegations of screenplay adapters infringing original writers' copyrights is nothing new in China's TV industry, but few copyright owners bother to take legal action due to the complicated evidence-collecting procedure, Wang said.

"It's hard to draw a line between script adaptation and plagiarizing in the laws," said Wang, who has been a freelancer screenplay writer for 17 years.

Yu Guofu, a Beijing lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights infringement, echoed Wang's sentiments, saying the current copyright law only recognizes plagiarism by similarity in wording, not in plots.

"Only when a TV screenplay features similarities in storylines, backgrounds and character relations and is presented in the same wording as the original one could it be identified as plagiarism and could violators be held legally responsible. Otherwise, it's hard to draw a conclusion for the court," Yu said.

Even if a rights-holder provides solid evidence, it still needs to be analyzed by official authorities like the Copyright Protection Center of China, and the entire procedure usually takes about six months, said Liu Yinliang, an associate law professor of intellectual property rights at Peking University.

"In most cases, both sides would compromise before taking legal action," Liu said.

Whether Yu infringed on Chiung's copyrights has yet to be seen, but public opinion seems to overwhelmingly support Chiung.

According to an online survey on, 90 percent of the 35,566 respondents agreed that Yu's screenplay copies Chiung's novel, while 87 percent said Yu's response on his micro blog is "insincere" by Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, some media have speculated that the hot debate was deliberately hyped by Chiung and Yu to promote their TV dramas.

"Yu's play is on air and Chiung is reportedly planning a remake of her novel. They both need extra attention from the media and public now," Zou Ren, a reporter with China Press and Publication Journal, said on her personal micro blog on Wednesday.

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