The outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic led to an unprecedented increase in online piracy worldwide regarding music, movies, television, publishing, and software. For example, the number of pirated movies increased by 39% in 2022 compared to 2021, while the number of visits to piracy websites to watch movies increased by about 9%.
The same trend is evident in China. For short videos alone, the Beijing Internet Court registers growing case numbers every year; between September 2018 and February 2022, the court accepted 2,812 cases of copyright disputes. The rights infringement cases are mostly about copying violations including cutting long videos, reusing short videos without permission or adding background music. Other lawsuits involve unauthorized creative editing and distribution of digital content.
One striking example: In 2022, during the pandemic, a WeChat channel livestreamed pirated videos of the musicals Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton. The goal was to use the pirated videos to build a fan base and make a profit. The piracy case cost rights holder Disney up to $75 million in license fees that would have been due for the online broadcast. The two illegal livestreams led to numerous complaints from users and were eventually interrupted by WeChat.
The trend is set to grow. The explosive growth of mobile internet and short video platforms has brought the cost of live streaming down to an extremely low level. Users need only register an account, have video resources, and own a computer with live streaming software installed to perform live streaming without technical barriers at almost zero cost.
Copyright owners can defend their rights well legally. This involves securing and notarizing evidence and civil suits for copyright or trademark infringement. In the case of damages, China has significantly increased the limits. In the case of data carriers, copy factories and distributors can be investigated detective-style and raided. The bottom line is that the sustained fight against digital product piracy in China now has a good chance of success.