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
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
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:
if there is an agreement, the court
may determine the order of authorships according to such
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  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
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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