Studios win China piracy case


BEIJING -- A Beijing court has ordered a repeat seller of pirated DVDs to pay $20,964 to five Hollywood studios, the Motion Picture Assn. said Tuesday. The sum is far less than originally sought and uncertain to be paid given that it is unclear if the defendants' whereabouts are known.

Though the damages awarded by Judge Song Guang in the Beijing 2nd Intermediate People's Court on Monday fell short of the $277,500 sought in an action filed in August, the ruling -- that the Yu Hao Qing DVD shop in downtown Beijing and its parent company, Beijing Century Hai Hong Trading Co. Ltd., are guilty of copyright infringement -- is no small matter, an MPA lawyer said.

"The outcome of this action is an important milestone in the effort to educate people that respect for copyright is important, and that there is a price to pay for copyright infringement," said Frank Rittman, the MPA's Asia-Pacific legal counsel and the vp who coordinated the lawsuit.

It was not immediately clear if the defendants were present in Beijing to hear Judge Song order them to "desist from illegal sales of pirated movies and pay the plaintiffs -- all MPA member companies -- damages and costs, the MPA said.

Calls to the court went unreturned Tuesday. In late September, Chinese courts were barred by law from speaking with non-Chinese journalists.

In mid-September, a court official said the whereabouts of the defendants was unknown. City commercial records at the time showed that Beijing Century Hai Hong Trading still existed, but had moved from its last known address.

Charges filed in early August by Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, the Walt Disney Co., Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures demanded that the defendants pay them about 2.2 million yuan ($277,500, or $7,500 per title), stop the sale of their pirated films and issue an apology, Rittman said in September.

Historically, Hollywood has filed piracy complaints with China's policy and enforcement authorities and tended to avoid a legal system that often ties up plaintiffs in lengthy cases.

This case could signal part of a shifting strategy in Hollywood to address rampant intellectual property theft in China, where the MPA estimates its member companies lost $244 million in potential revenue to piracy last year.

Last week, the MPA and other overseas industry groups, such as the Business Software Alliance, signed a memorandum with the National Copyright Association of China to work more closely together to help catch and prosecute copyright violators (HR 12/19).