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Peter Rabbit hops into court
By Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-24 01:18

British Frederick Warne Co Ltd, trademark owner of the children's literary classic Peter Rabbit, was taken to a Beijing-based court Thursday by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Press.

The press required the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court to confirm its serial Peter Rabbit books did not infringe upon the trademark rights of Frederick Warne Co Ltd.

In response to the British company's complaint in May last year, Beijing's Xicheng District Bureau for Industry and Commerce withheld 23,000 Peter Rabbit books published by the press and required the press to pay an administrative penalty of 350,000 yuan (US$42,000).

No decision was made Thursday after the first hearing.

Peter Rabbit was created by the late British writer Beatrix Potter, who died in 1943. Potter created Peter Rabbit serial stories and painted the illustrations herself.

"We believe using the character and logo of Peter Rabbit in our books did not violate the defendant's trademark rights," Ni Xiaohong, the lawyer representing the Chinese press, said Thursday at court.

According to the nation's Copyright Law, copyright protection extends 50 years after the death of the writer. Therefore, the books entered the public domain of copyright in 1994, the lawyer claimed.

Chinese translator Zhang Runfang translated 19 works by Beatrix Potter into Chinese and owns copyright of the Chinese translated versions.

Zhang signed a publication contract with the press last year. The plaintiff therefore acquired the monopoly publishing rights of the simplified Chinese-character version of the translated works, the indictment said.

The Chinese press believed that to use the figure and logo of Peter Rabbit is quoting original works.

"It is legal use according to practice in the publishing industry," Ni said.

Frederick Warne Co Ltd registered the trademark illustrations of the Peter Rabbit series in China in 1994.

"The trademark registration aimed to reach monopoly rights of works which will enjoy public copyright soon," the lawyer said, noting the company has never used the trademark in China before the lawsuit.

Upon this, Zhang Zaiping, lawyer for the defendant, fought back at court Thursday.

The defendant has used the trademark of the Peter Rabbit in China since 2002 in books and clothing, according to him.

"The logo of Peter Rabbit is a world famous trademark whose monopoly right is owned by Frederick Warne Co Ltd," Zhang said at court.

"The trademark is protected by Chinese laws," he said.

"Globally, any book or other goods with the logo should be published or produced after being authorized by the British company," Zhang said.

The defendant concluded that the Chinese plaintiff's using image and logo of the Peter Rabbit is infringement upon Frederick Warne's trademark right.

"The infringing behaviours have resulted in severe damage to our trademark image and legal commercial operations," the lawyer said.

The British company required the court to reject the indictment but no decision was made Thursday.

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