China: The Right Of Authorship Q&A

Last Updated: 13 April 2017
Article by Watson & Band Law Offices

How should a scriptwriter be credited?

In the infringement case concerning the Chinese TV drama The Legend Of Miyue, the Plaintiff and the Defendant focused their dispute on whether, by listing Jiang Shengnan as the original screenwriter and Wang Xiaoping as lead writer, this TV work infringed the right of authorship of Jiang Shengnan. Those two titles, the original screenwriter and the lead writer, are only two of the various titles and position names that are presented in the opening and ending credits of films and TV dramas, such as pre-production playwright, script coordinator, lead screenwriter, playwright, associate screenwriter, script planner, etc.

The dispute described above arises from inherent features of the screenwriting industry. The production of a film or a TV drama involves a series of complex and onerous tasks, and no single person is capable of completing all of them alone. As a solution, the producer will cooperate with several screenwriters to modify and enrich the script. Such a mode of production can easily trigger a dispute over each screenwriter's right to credit for the script. Even if such a dispute is submitted to court, the court may find it difficult to provide exhaustive definitions and rulings on different titles for every case of this kind.

Since the creation of a script is usually done by screenwriters based on their contracts with the producer, they should insist on specifying issues such as the right of authorship in express terms when signing screenwriting contracts with the production company. Such a move could prevent problematic terms such as "the method and sequence of authorship are subject to the producer's discretion" or "to be determined based on the screenwriting performance."

2. On which kind of promotional document is a screenwriter free to demand credit?

Before a film or a TV drama is released, the production company will host a series of promotional activities to attract public attention. Consequently, the question arises whether the screenwriter is to be allowed credit for an upcoming film/TV drama in the trailers, posters and pamphlets used for those promotional activities the same way as in the film/TV drama?

According to the second paragraph of Article 10 in the Copyright Law, the right of authorship is defined as the right to affix one's name to a work to indicate the author's identity. Based on this definition, the protective scope of the right of authorship for a screenwriter is limited to the work itself rather than the trailer, pamphlets or posters used to advertise the work. In other words, the author may not use the Copyright Law to demand that his/her authorship be displayed on these materials.

If anyone inserts improper authorship credits into promotional materials, such as by reversing the sequence of authorships, mistaking the screenwriter title or intentional omission of the authorship of the main screenwriter, resulting in the compromise or dissolution of the apparent relationship between the author and the work, it can be deemed infringement of the screenwriter's right of authorship. Of course, such an infringement is not necessarily limited to posters advertising the work; facilitation of the compromise or dissolution of the apparent relationship by any medium risks infringement.

3. In what sequence should screenwriters be credited for a work?

Article 11 of the Interpretation of the Supreme People's Court on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law to the Trial of Civil Disputes Involving Copyrights stipulates that a People's Court may handle disputes arising from the order of authorships listed for a work under the following principles:

  1. if there is an agreement, the court may determine the order of authorships according to such agreement;
  2. if there is no agreement, the People's Court may determine the order of authorships based on factors such as the amount of work each author has contributed, the work's arrangement, or the number of strokes in each author's family name.

Although most issues concerning the sequence of authorship can be resolved using these principles, there are films and TV dramas that list some of the screenwriters in the opening credits and list the remainder in the closing credits. For this intricate and particular circumstance, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television released the Notice on the Regulation of Issues Relating to the Authorship of Films (Ying Zi [2013] No.618) on December 13th, 2013, which specifies that the names of main creative artists, including screenwriters and directors, should be placed in conspicuous positions in the opening or ending credits.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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