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Duo strikes sour note after gala performance

By Wang Xin | China Daily | Updated: 2011-02-16 07:52

'Migrant worker singers' banned from song after money starts to roll in

Riding the popularity of their cover version of the song In the Spring, the once-obscure singing duo Wang Xu and Liu Gang shot to fame in the limelight of State broadcaster China Central Television's Spring Festival gala on the eve of Chinese New Year.

But the signature tune proved popular for another reason after the performance stirred up heated discussion about copyright protection.

The song's composer Wang Feng originally allowed the impoverished duo to sing his song, but he has now banned them from singing it "in commercial use", according to Chinese media, because they continued to perform it for sizable fees without his permission.

He noted that he had originally helped the two after they became a hit on the Internet.

Wang Feng's song, part of his album released in 2009, depicts his poor, yet simple, early days, critics say.

Labeled "migrant worker singers", Wang Xu and Liu Gang first gained a following when they recorded the song in tiny room in Beijing in 2010.

A friend shot a video of them singing In the Spring - bare-chested and hoarse-voiced - and put it on the Internet. The video attracted wide attention and began their rise to fame.

Struggling at a grassroots level, they sang out their emotional distress, confusion and persistent desire for a better life, which struck a chord with millions of Chinese netizens, Xinhuanet commented.

The song dramatically changed their lives. Following the New Year's gala, they were contracted to play for tens of thousands of yuan for each performance in cities around China.

Just when they seemed to have come out of poverty and on the path to success, last week Wang Feng informed them through his assistant that they must stopping singing his songs for pay.

As most of their repertoire is Wang Feng songs, the ban again put their future in doubt.

The issue hit the headlines for several days and prompted strong reactions.

Supporters say the move is justified to maintain a copyright owner's legitimate interests, while opponents criticized the composer as "narrow-minded" and "selfish".

Wang Feng even posted a lengthy response on his blog that ran to 50,000 Chinese characters. He said he felt his good intentions were misused.

He said he too was touched by their performance when he watched their online video and invited the duo to play with him in a Shanghai concert last November.

He also signed an agreement to authorize them to sing the song at CCTV's Spring Festival gala party and donated his royalties to buy them a better guitar.

Yet after they became popular, they did not ask for authorization for many of their commercial performances, Wang said.

"If you earn more than 10,000 yuan ($1,517) for one performance, it is no longer making a simple living," the Beijng Times cited Wang saying.

He said his decision did not target just the duo, but instead is intended to highlight the value of copyrights.

"The focus of many creators, including me, is not just money," Wang noted in his blog. "We are more concerned about the protection of our works because they are like our children."

Wang's opinions were echoed among his peers. "No reason is needed when you take back your own thing," said Jia Yinan, a guitarist inWang's band and also the song's arranger.

"When something happens, people tend to stand by the weaker party," Jia said, but a rational attitude is needed to make the right judgment.

The opinion of some netizens reflects the weakness in their copyright awareness, legal experts say.

"It is a serious legal issue and involves no moral judgment," Xinhuanet cited Liu Chunquan, a Shanghai attorney, as saying.

Behind the dispute is the importance of copyrights in the music industry, said Liu Ping, vice secretary-general of the Music Copyright Society of China.

Songwriters now take better care of their legitimate interests, he said.

The duo said they are grateful for Wang Feng's help and they respect his decision. Their agents said they will continue to explore cooperation possibilities with him.

In the meantime, some of the duo's fans have volunteered to compose songs for them.

China Daily

(China Daily 02/16/2011 page17)

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