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Visitors at the booth of Shueisha in an international animation exhibition in Hangzhou last year. The Japanese publisher recently licensed copyrights of 11 comics to Tencent. Li Zhong / For China Daily
In one of the largest international copyright deals to date in China, Internet portal Tencent Games last month acquired the online rights to 11 comics from the well-known Japanese publishing house Shueisha Inc.
It was the first time the Japanese publisher authorized electronic copyrights for its comics to a Chinese company.
The agreement includes Shueisha's most recent works such as Naruto, One Piece and Gin Tama, which are still serialized, as well as some classics like Dragon Ball, Dr Slump and Saint Seiya.
"Like literature, movies, music and games, there is potential in multi-platform partnerships in comics," Cheng Wu, vice-chairman of Tencent's interactive entertainment business, said at a press conference in Hangzhou on Jan 17.
"Comics are friends that accompany us all the time," he said. "They can promote emotional communication and inspire imagination."
Web users can read the digital version of six of the 11 comics on Tencent Games for free using a computer or cell phone. The other five are expected to be uploaded in near future.
In another strategic partnership, the Chinese company plans to jointly produce a Web page game called "Naruto Online" with Japanese video games developer Namco Bandai based on the comic of the same name.
The comic has already been adapted to video games by a number of foreign companies including Namco Bandai. "Naruto Online" will be its first PC-based game.
"We are able to develop a Naruto-themed online game in China thanks to the large group of players and the cooperation with one of the top game service providers in China," said Hirotaka Watanabe, an executive of Namco Bandai's game promotion department.
There are already many online games in China based on the popular comic, none of them authorized by copyright owner Shueisha.
Cheng said that Tencent will "actively join hands with domestic law enforcement authorities to clean up the business environment", suggesting that the company might use legal means to target those offering pirated content.
"Only when everybody respects copyrights can China's creative industry have space for comic writers to grow and compete with world giants such as Walt Disney and Shueisha," he said.
Tencent Games began a new strategy last year that centers around intellectual property authorization, said Cheng.
The company signed contracts last April with Walt Disney and China ACG Group for cooperation in creation of comics and animations.
No easy deals
Haruhiko Suzuki, an executive director at Shueisha, said the production house "attaches great importance to the Chinese animation market" and expects to provide Chinese readers with "synchronous classic comic works as in other overseas markets".
But some in the industry have their doubts.
Shen Chunyan, an executive at Hangzhou-based FanFan Comic Culture & Art Co, said that imported comics have to pass examination by the General Administration of Press and Publication, which takes at least three months and can be as long as a year, before approval is given for the Chinese market.
And Shueisha "insists that the work has to be exactly the same as the original to be legal", said Shen. Negotiation between the two companies lasted more than half a year when FanFan was licensed One Piece from Shueisha six years ago.
She said Tencent might encounter similar problems in translation, examination and revision.
(China Daily 02/06/2013 page17)