An American music publishing company has accused one of China’s biggest state-owned television networks of illegally using songs under its ownership, according to a statement published Saturday.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing said that singers of a Hunan TV reality show didn’t request permission to perform songs from the British band Queen. Four singers on Friday had performed a medley of four songs by Queen — including “We Are the Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” — during an episode of its hit show “Singer,” a musical faceoff between the established Chinese artists.
The New York-based company, which manages the copyrights for songs by Queen, also urged the Chinese network to “respect and protect” the rights of the artists and demanded compensation for the copyright infringement.
Sixth Tone’s repeated phone calls to Hunan TV went unanswered Monday, while Sony/ATV told Sixth Tone that it could not comment further amid an ongoing discussion with the network.
Musical reality shows have become an entertainment staple in China, drawing billions of viewers on television networks and online platforms. Such shows usually secure the rights to the songs their contestants perform, but some copyright holders have alleged that this isn’t always the case.
Last year, singer Li Zhi sued popular talent show “The Coming One” for 3 million yuan ($450,000) for the unauthorized use of his music. And in January 2017, Russian singer Vitas took legal action against “Singer” for using his song “Opera 2” without permission.
According to China’s Copyright Law, any individual or company that uses an artist’s original work for commercial purposes must seek their permission and pay a fee. However, industry experts say that difficulties in obtaining permission, as well as steep licensing fees and a higher threshold for reviewing adaptation rights, may sometimes lead to copyright infringement.
Legal experts like Xu Xinming, an intellectual property researcher at China University of Political Science and Law, say that despite growing awareness of music piracy and illegal downloading, infringement in adaptations and covers is still overlooked. Except for charitable causes, Xu told Sixth Tone, any performance without consent from the artist or music publishing company is a copyright violation.
“The law should increase the statutory compensation for copyright infringement cases — which is currently less than 500,000 yuan — in order to effectively compensate the copyright owners’ losses and also reduce infringement cases,” said Xu, who is also a lawyer at Beijing Mingtai Law Firm. “For malicious infringement, the offender should pay for both compensation and the punitive damages so that such activities can be prevented.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A promotional photo for the Chinese reality show “Singer” shows contestants performing onstage. From the show’s official Weibo account)