As one of the famous internet celebrities in China, Li Ziqi has millions of fans on various online platforms. Being famous for video making of traditional Chinese food and displaying idyllic pastoral life, she owns the Guinness world record title of "YouTube Chinese Channel with the largest number of subscriptions". However, Li Ziqi has not updated her channel for several months and it may be related to her litigation with the company Hangzhou Weinian Brand Management Co., Ltd.

In order to understand the disputes between two parties, we need to understand the cooperation model of internet celebrities and management companies.  It can be seen as an IP, created and maintained by internet celebrities themselves and the MCN (Multi-channel network) organizations behind them. 

The two parties take charge of different parts including shooting the video, script writing, post-production, marketing, promotion and so on. Generally speaking, the MCN organizations will help the bloggers to raise their reputation and manage their brands. The two parties will share the benefits in accordance with their agreement.


Weibo account of Li Ziqi

Taking Li Ziqi as an example, her team is in charge of content writing, theme designation, video editing and other things related with the video. While Weinian Company is responsible for other things, such as promotion.

With the development of online video platform, the influence of internet celebrities is increasing rapidly. In this age of big data, top bloggers who have a large number of fans can create their own IP and turn these resources into benefit. However, it will arouse a problem of the benefit distribution between the internet celebrities and the marketing companies behind them.

How do internet celebrities protect their IP right? Trademark and equity may be two vital factors.

Can you imagine that the trademark "李子柒" may not belong to Li Ziqi herself?  Actually, her real name is Li Jiajia (李佳佳) and not Li Ziqi (李子柒). As her real name is not Li Ziqi, and Li Ziqi is her stage name, it means that this case is a pure trademark case. This would be different if the trademark would have been Li Jiajia (李佳佳), which would then be her personal name and as such would belong to herself as a personality right which cannot be renounced, transferred or inherited.

Therefore, the trademark "李子柒" does not naturally belong to Li Ziqi. Instead, the trademark "李子柒" was registered by Weinian Company at first and then transferred to Sichuan Ziqi Culture Communication Co., Ltd, in which Weinian holds 51% equity and Li Ziqi holds 41%. It means that Li Ziqi does not actually control the Ziqi Company which owns the trademark "李子柒". Thus, for the outside world, it still remains unknown who will get the trademark if they end the cooperation.

How much is the IP of Li Ziqi "李子柒" worth? It may well go beyond your imagination. According to statics, Li Ziqi has more than 27 million fans on Weibo and more than 14 million fans on YouTube, which could amount into a considerable wealth. Also, the online stores on Taobao and Jingdong are named after "Li Ziqi".



Online stores of Li Ziqi on Taobao

Online stores of Li Ziqi Jingdong

The river snails rice noodles, the most popular product of the Li Ziqi online store, sells more than 300,000 pieces a month. "Li Ziqi" appears to be a trademark with a certain reputation since consumers come to purchase the products because of her reputation, which is one of the ways for internet celebrities to turn their fame into income.

However, since Li Ziqi focuses on the video shooting, Weinian Company is the operator of the online store and it even established a factory to improve the production of the goods. Unlike other top internet celebrities, Li Ziqi does not hold equity in Weinian Company. Shareholding structure affects benefit distribution and decision-making, which may finally trigger a litigation.

The Li Ziqi case is a lesson for all the internet celebrities who want to turn themselves into a brand. How to protect IP is an important issue. Many people have a misunderstanding that the IP they build belongs to themselves naturally even though they do not take any protection measure.  However, when it turns into a trademark, it can be registered by others or transferred by valid agreements. 

For example, the worst situation is that internet celebrities cannot use their trademark built by themselves even though it is known as their name by millions of fans all over the world. Having in mind that Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple, the company he created, such people and companies should make sure that they own their own trademarks. As such, the trademark will stay with you.

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.