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Nov 22, 2016

An alliance of authors, playwrights, and anti-plagiarism crusaders is preparing a lawsuit against an acclaimed online novelist, accusing her of copying over 200 works, online news outlet Jiemian reported Monday.

The lawsuit has been years in the making, with accusations gathering steam since the novel in question was published online in installments starting from 2012.

The issue has attracted even more public and industry attention in recent weeks, since the novel was adapted into a high-ratings TV series that premiered on Nov. 11. In just 11 days, the show has recorded more than 1.76 billion views on Tencent’s video-streaming site.

Zhou Jing — better known by her pen name, Qin Jian — published the novel, “Jinxiu Weiyang,” or “The Princess Weiyoung,” on a popular online literature website, Xiao Xiang Academy. Almost immediately, the novel came under fire from readers who said its plot and wording were similar to other works. A group of volunteers formed through microblogging site Weibo with the aim of collecting and exposing examples of the novel’s plagiarism.

In August 2013, Hou Xiaoqiang, then CEO of Cloudary Corporation, which owned Xiao Xiang Academy, stated on his Weibo account that the company had submitted the novel to the state copyright administration for investigation, and thanked readers for their input. To date no result has been released from the investigation, but the novel is currently not available on Xiao Xiang Academy. A cached version available on Google shows it was still online in September.

Despite the copyright dispute, the novel was later traded as intellectual property (IP) and adapted into a television series of the same name by Shanghai’s Croton Media in 2015. 

Wang Hailin, a screenwriter who is part of the China TV-Series Screenwriters Committee, an industry association, told Sixth Tone that a volunteer informed him of the plagiarism situation in February, and that he hoped the committee could intervene to stop the show’s upcoming broadcast. For his part, Wang said he could only help the group reach lawyers and raise money for a case.

“The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television can deal with it only after there has been a judgement via the legal process,” Wang said, referring to China’s official media monitoring body.

But with more than 200 writers involved, it was hard to reach all of them and bring them together to file a lawsuit. “Some writers didn’t want to get involved because they didn’t want to get into trouble, and several are copycats themselves,” Wang explained.

The cost of litigation was also a barrier, but now the group has raised more than 100,000 yuan ($14,500) to cover the counsel’s fees. Dozens of writers claiming copyright infringement are working with lawyers to prepare their case.

Zai Qing — her Weibo username — is one of the volunteers who has been collating evidence on the plagiarism accusations since 2013. She told Sixth Tone that based on the group’s research, she believes 9 of 294 chapters in the novel are original.

Neither author Zhou Jing nor the production company Croton Media replied to Sixth Tone’s requests for comment.

With popular IP being increasingly profitable, and IP-adapted works flooding Chinese cinemas and online television, copyright issues are a growing concern for the nation’s entertainment industry.

On Nov. 14, the National Copyright Administration of the People’s Republic of China issued a notice to strengthen regulation of internet literature in an attempt to tackle the problem. The notice demanded that online platforms establish and refine their systems for addressing copyright infringement.

“This notice is very good, and I hope it will become a legal regulation in the future,” said Wang, “People are so crazy about IP that they don’t care if it is stolen from others.”

(Header image: Actors and producers for ‘Princess Weiyoung’ beat a drum at a press conference for the TV series, Dec. 22, 2015. VCG)