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Livestreaming a hotbed of violations

Published on 08/25 2017  Source: China Daily

As real-time, online airing of shows, sports events increases, so do rights infringements

As online livestreaming business booms and increasingly involves music, movies, TV dramas, sport events and games, industry insiders have warned of growing risks and disputes concerning intellectual property rights.

The live online broadcast of the 2016-17 United States' National Basketball Association Finals' last game on June 13 attracted 175 million viewers on sports.qq.com, a subsidiary of internet giant Tencent and an official partner of the NBA, hitting a world record for online livestreaming audience size.

The number could have been even higher if there were no unauthorized online livestreaming, said Liu Zhengcao, an executive at Tencent's legal department for the video business.

A girl hosts an online live show at a park in Wuhan, Hubei province. Cheng Ying / For China Daily

"Whenever we have major games and events, Tencent's copyright monitoring system will show rocketing violation reports," Liu said. He added that although the company routinely makes various plans before each event - for example by sending rights declarations to video streaming portals - violations occur all the time.

Liu said there are three kinds of pirated streaming. Some websites intercept the link of licensed streaming and relink it to their own host rooms, adding the hosts' comments. Some just relink the licensed streaming to their own hosts but do not add comments. Others allow their hosts to directly shoot the live images of the show with smartphones and share it.

Liu added that some livestreaming portals use foreign TV signals of the NBA games, which creates challenges for the company's copyright monitoring system.

"It's high time we strengthen our effort in defending our rights on the livestreaming platforms," said Liu Ping, deputy secretary-general of the Music Copyright Society of China.

When an online livestreaming host begins a show, he or she often uses background music or sings songs. Liu said the Music Copyright Society has been negotiating with major online livestreaming operators about the use of music since 2015, but most of them have "responded passively".

"Music is used on the internet in many ways, but its legal nature (to be protected by the copyright law) does not change and the copyrights belong to the rights owners," he said. "One single piece of music may not have much value, but using a large quantity of music will cost a lot."

He also said it is difficult for the copyright owner of one piece of music to defend his rights, but the Music Copyright Society, as the collective administrator of music copyright, can launch operations targeting massive violations.

The society filed a lawsuit against livestreaming website huajiao.com on July 10 in Beijing for using 10 songs without a proper license. It was the first case in China filed by a music copyright owner against an online livestreaming platform.

Experts said there are many reasons for the increase of disputes in the online livestreaming business, including the lack of IP awareness among hosts, difficulty in collecting evidence and the conflict of interests between the rights owners and the online livestreaming portals.

They also said the key to solving the problems is to define "reasonable use" of the works involved in the livestreaming shows.

Qi Aimin, a law professor at Chongqing University, said using short clips of video works could be regarded as "reasonable" if they are used as materials in the shows, and singing songs for free is also "reasonable use".

However, law professor Liu Deliang from Beijing Normal University noted that most of the livestreaming portals use a business model in which the viewers can tip the hosts, making the shows commercial activities, so the use of copyright music can hardly be defined as "reasonable".

Experts have called for increased IP awareness among operators, establishment of specialized IP management and risk control departments in these companies and stronger law enforcement.