Stopping Copyright Thief In China

Posted on 10/3/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

    The following article, witten by Rowan Callick, China correspondent for The Australian is reprinted with Callick’s permission.

Guarding intellectual property rights in China causes many headaches - but also opens fresh opportunities for lateral thinkers like Chu Yong, whose company’s biggest income stream comes from court cases against copyright thieves.

He is making more money for his 400 clients from compensation for infringement, than many of them receive from selling their products to genuine buyers.

After working as a photographer for 20 years, Chu set up three years ago a company, Super Image Market (SIM), which he registered in Hong Kong.

His aim was to establish a business-to-consumer firm - like Taobao which chiefly sells physical products, but in SIM’s case aimed to provide a platform from which photographers could market their pictures.

As happens with Taobao, the payment is made through SIM which deducts 20 per cent commission before passing on the revenue.

That’s the simple part of the deal. But as SIM’s clinching attraction, if the photos displayed are misused or stolen, then the firm’s technology will help uncover that, and it will seek economic compensation on behalf of its clients, who are both Chinese and foreigners based overseas, usually in China.

If the photographer who places the photos through SIM is not well known, and has not built up a track record with the company, it will delay payments “to ensure no one else contacts us to claim the copyright,” founder and chief executive Chu told The Australian.

The company works in close collaboration with a law firm that has developed an expertise in pursuing copyright theft cases, and which has partners in more than 40 Chinese cities.

He said that a few very large stock-photo companies have cornered much of the market, with which individual photographers have very limited power to negotiate.

The benefit that SIM can deliver photographers, he said, is that “we are using technology that we have developed, an image matching system,” that roams the Internet - using artificial intelligence working through a server based in Amazon - and tracks the most similar images to those that are posted online.

The pixel intensity that his system has developed is unique, Chu claimed, providing considerable accuracy - based entirely on image, not on language.

His system can to date search the net, daily - including the sites of retail platforms and other companies and organisations - for any copies of about 10,000 of the 3 million images that have so far been placed on the SIM platform.

The SIM server can compare a client’s image with 50 million other photos in a tenth of a second. But China’s Great Firewall slows down Internet traffic, doubling the time a search takes inside China.
He said that such image-based technologies are being pursued for different purposes - for instance, by the Chinese “net police” to block pornography. The traffic police are also developing it, to track infringers caught on CCTV.

SIM employs ten people in technology and development in Beijing, and two in marketing in Hong Kong.

“It’s very common for people to steal photos - that’s a universal phenomenon not just in China,” Chu said. “Some people have a misunderstanding, that because something is online it can be shared, for nothing. They may borrow it for personal use on WeChat,” China’s dominant social media platform, “but not for profit.”

He said that this misunderstanding is starting to change, especially in China’s largest cities, where “they might still not be prepared to pay copyright, but are becoming aware it’s not right to make use of someone else’s image or a piece of music.”

On average, he said, SIM tracks down one illegal use every day of each of the 10,000 images that are checked for infringement.

The system can then narrow down its search to investigate which infringements are persistent and involve multiple copies - though Chu said his firm lacks the capacity to chase copyright theft outside China.

On average, SIM assigns about 1,000 illegally copied images a day to its lawyers to pursue.
The lawyers take three steps: asking for the copying to stop, demanding an apology, and seeking compensation.

“In most cases,” said Chu, “the lawyers’ initial contact will be ignored - in part because there many deceptions carried out in this area. In most cases where we are successful for our clients, it is through the courts.”

In Western countries, copyright infringement triggers a punishing fine to discourage others. In China, Chu said, the goal is rather to seek satisfaction, with the judge estimating the value of a stolen photograph.
In a third of the cases, the user has set up a fake website or simply cannot be found, in another third they agree to discuss a figure out of court, and the remaining third, involving sums of more than $A1,000, typically end up in court.

“We win almost all those cases,” said Chu. But the sums are usually below what SIM seeks.
“Our long-term goal,” he said, “is to make revenue more from a real market in online photo trading than from copyright theft.”

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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