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Writer, publisher in suit over cover portrait copyright

By Hao Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-11-06 07:00

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it worth 150,000 yuan ($24,600)?

That is the question being answered in a case that the Xi'an Intermediate People's Court began hearing last month, according to a report from Sanqin Daily.

Chinese novelist Jia Pingwa never thought a picture of him taken more than a decade ago would be the subject of a lawsuit, but a photographer surnamed Zhao recently took Lijiang Publishing House and a bookstore in Xi'an to court for publishing and selling eight of Jia's books with the portrait on their covers without his authorization. Jia also became a defendant.

Zhao is asking for a public apology and a total of 150,000 yuan in compensation from the three defendants. Neither Zhao or Jia appeared in the court as the case was being heard.

The photographer's lawyer said Zhao was invited by his friend to take a photo of Jia in 2002, and the portrait was used on the cover of the writer's full-length prose collection published a year later. The publisher paid Zhao hundreds of yuan as the copyright fee at that time.

Last year, Zhao found this photo was again used on the cover of Jia's works. But this time, he was not informed about the copyright authorization nor did he receive any payment.

The eight books have covered most of the writer's representative works.

According to Jia's defense, he remembered the portrait was taken during a conference he participated in around 10 years ago, and Zhao sent him the photo after the meeting ended.

In the photo, Jia was covering his nose with a hand because he caught a cold at that time, he explained. He also said there were also some other photographers taking pictures of him.

His lawyer said the writer received a call from Lijiang Publishing House a few months earlier talking about the case. The publisher offered to pay a settlement of 5,000 yuan.

Jia delivered the information to Zhao, but he rejected the offer.

Jia also said that there is no reason for him to be a defendant because he did not provide the photo to Lijiang Publishing House.

His lawyer also argued that Jia did not ask Zhao to take this photo for him. Besides, Zhao already gave it to him without anything legally binding to assert his control over the copyright, so he requested that the court dismiss the plaintiff's claim.

A representative of Lijiang Publishing House said the covers of the eight books were created by a design company, which should also be responsible for the source of the portrait.

He also said even if the publisher violated Zhao's copyright, the compensation fee was too high.

He said the design company charges 1,000 yuan for designing each cover, and 240 yuan for a picture. The publishing house printed a total of 9,000 books and has sold less than 50 percent so far.

Considering all these facts, the defendant said compensation in the amount of 2,000 yuan is reasonable.

 Writer, publisher in suit over cover portrait copyright

An attorney for the plaintiff displays books suspected of using Jia's portrait without the photographer's permission. Zhao Chen / for China Daily

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