Partner, Harris Bricken Beijing Office

China copyright lawI spoke in Beijing last week at a conference on legal protection of sports broadcasts, organized by the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Other speakers included Chinese judges, Chinese and American lawyers and academics, sports league and broadcaster general counsel, and American and European IP officials. What follows is based on the speech I gave at the conference.

Copyright in sports broadcasts is not explicitly recognized in China by statute, though it has been recognized in some Chinese copyright cases. One of the ongoing debates in China copyright circles is whether explicit statutory recognition ought be given to copyright in sports broadcasts. Any such recognition would involve introducing a new class of copyright subject matter or the expansion of an existing class.

The introduction or expansion of a class of copyright subject matter is often rationalized as limiting free riding and providing an incentive to invest. In the absence of a clear sports broadcast copyright in China, one might therefore expect to find at least some evidence of market failure. However, a quick look at the business of broadcasting certain sports in China indicates a strong market — perhaps even a bubble.

Consider, for instance, Chinese Super League matches. China broadcast rights are, I understand, currently held by an associate of China Media Capital for a five-year term ending in 2021. Rights for the first two years were reportedly acquired for 300 million USD. Rights for years three, four and five were reportedly acquired for a total of one billion USD. In an indication this was a good deal for the head-licensee, Le TV committed to paying 414 million USD for a two-year sub-license, though Le TV subsequently defaulted and, as I understand it, the rights now lie with online TV service PPTV.

Now consider English Premier League matches. China broadcast rights are, I understand, currently held by Super Sports for a six-year term ending in 2020. These rights were reportedly acquired for 65 million USD. Note that this figure represents an assessment of market value made in 2013. For the three years commencing in 2020, PPTV has reportedly bid 700 million USD. This makes China the Premier League’s largest foreign broadcast market.

If these deals are any indication, the market is apparently already behaving as though sports broadcasts are protectable. But there is no proprietary foundation for this protection. The present foundation is contractual. The organizer of the game, a sports league, is the source of all rights in the game. The sports league relies on the “economics of exclusion” — the ability to monetize by controlling access to a sporting venue, in much the same way a theatrical exhibitor of a motion picture controls access to a movie theatre. In some cases, and in some courts, copyright protection has been recognized in China but a consistent jurisprudence has not emerged. The more readily available legal means of protection involve anti-unfair competition laws or the use of administrative or even criminal sanctions. Chinese tort laws and “related rights” laws are also invoked by rights holders when they fight piracy. Whatever the actual or potential legal redress for piracy may be, in assessing the applicable law in China it must be appreciated that a sports broadcast is always a special type of broadcast presenting unique challenges.

What makes sports broadcasts special is that the viewer wants to watch a game as it is played at the venue from which the broadcast is being made. The replay or the highlights are not as valuable as the live feed. The threat posed by illegal downloads after a game concludes is minimal. From a technical perspective, a live broadcast of any kind involves the compression of pre-production and post-production into a seamless and immediate production. That production, and the broadcasting of it, must occur simultaneously. Incidentally, sports leagues report that the advent of hand-held live streaming technology is not a major threat to their businesses because the quality of the stream lacks the production values of a professional broadcast.

The unique challenge of a sports broadcast is that satisfactory relief from a pirated version must be swift. It must be pre-emptive (in advance of the game) or instantaneous (well before the game ends and, ideally, within the first quarter hour). In either case, only urgent injunctive relief can ever be entirely satisfactory. Non-urgent preliminary injunctive relief will not solve the problem, and damages and accounts of profits are insufficient remedies.

Even if sports broadcasts are accorded clear and consistent protection under Chinese copyright law, it is fair to say that uniform urgent injunctive relief (as opposed to preliminary injunctive relief) is still largely beyond the capacity of the Chinese legal system. Therefore, the recognition of copyright in a sports broadcast would not, of itself, solve the underlying need for urgent relief. Still, China’s legal system in its present form does allow rights-holders to tackle repeat offenders, and the large Chinese platforms are already mostly respectful of broadcast rights anyway. In many ways, the real challenges are presented by the smaller, and often ephemeral, pirate sites. Even if these pirate sites can be identified and located, the people behind them nearly always lack substantial assets and are therefore rarely worth pursuing. To be effective in the present environment a sports league (or its local partner) needs a team of Chinese-qualified in-house litigators who understand the piracy landscape and are capable of engaging in guerrilla warfare using technological as well as legal or administrative means.

Despite the existence of these other means, despite evidence pointing to a strong market, and despite the inherent limitations of an action for copyright infringement in China, there is little doubt that explicit statutory recognition of sports broadcast copyright would provide greater certainty and support greater market efficiency. This is especially so if this statutory recognition were given to a broad-based, technology-neutral right embracing traditional broadcasting as well as streaming.

Industry stakeholders are not resisting the recognition of such a sports broadcast copyright. There is apparently a broad consensus among broadcasters and sports leagues on the issue. There is apparently no division between foreign and Chinese interests on this point either. Nor is a sports game sensitive — it is not subject to the kind of censorship, quotas, and approvals processes applicable to motion picture or episodic content. Nonetheless, there is ongoing resistance to the recognition of copyright in sports broadcasts. Resistance has arisen, I understand, because recognition of copyright in sports broadcasts would require the NCAC to change its understanding of the meaning of a copyright “work” and the applicable standards of “originality.” Absent market failure this issue is perhaps not viewed as a major priority. Whatever the reason, until the NCAC resolves this and other current issues it cannot present a coherent solution to the State Council Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO). The SCLAO is therefore not in a position to recommend final legislation to the National Peoples Congress. The discussion has been bogged down for nearly a decade. All the while, the sports broadcasting industry is getting further and further ahead of the law.

As an important source of or influence on China’s copyright law, the Berne Convention, with its focus on works and authorship, provides a frame of reference for a consideration of the underlying problem in China. China became a party to the Berne Convention in 1992. Berne sets a number of minimum standards applicable to works and authors. A broadcast right is among those rights that must be recognized as exclusive rights of authorization. Authors enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing the broadcasting of their works.

China’s current copyright law has been in effect since 2010. It too applies to “works,” which include, among other things, works of literature, art, natural sciences, social sciences, engineering and technology, which are created in certain “forms.” With the exception of computer software, these forms are limited to specific kinds of works enumerated in the law. The sixth form in the list is “cinematographic works and works created by a process analogous to cinematography.” The ninth and final form in the list is “other works as provided for in laws and administrative regulations.” The rights comprising copyright in these works include the broadcast right. China also recognizes related, neighboring or “small” rights in other subject matter including video recordings. The protection given to these other subject matter is lower than that given to works. The standard of originality expected of a video recording is much lower than that applicable to cinematographic works.

In China, the sports broadcast copyright controversy arises for two reasons. First, because a game of sport is not generally seen as a “work,” so there is no broadcast of a work when a game is broadcast. Second, because even if it is accepted (as it is in the United States) that a broadcast always requires the simultaneous making of a recording, any such recording is insufficiently original to be regarded as a cinematographic work. There is little disagreement on the first reason. The real debate is about the second reason. The competing considerations on this point have been ventilated in the leading Chinese cases. Basically, the debate boils down to whether modern-day live broadcasts, with their professional directors, multi-camera units and advanced editing techniques, are producing content sufficiently original to qualify as a copyright work. It seems obvious to anyone with even a basic understanding of the production process that sports broadcasts are a form of entertainment every bit as sophisticated and entertaining as motion picture or episodic content, the originality of which is already recognized in China.

It will be seen, then, that the minimum standards of Berne, as reflected in Chinese copyright law concerning “works,” are at risk of becoming impediments to the recognition or creation of other copyright subject matter. There is an opportunity here for China to go its own way over and above minimum standards.

Other nations have, of course, gone their own ways and I want to mention two that have found instructive solutions to the problem of “works”: The United States and Australia. Both are obviously common law countries. There are many others, including civil law countries. Incidentally, as a last resort, those who oppose grafting common law principles to the Chinese legal context are fond of saying that German law is the proper source of Chinese copyright law and German law is inconsistent with the common law point of view on the points at issue. The trouble is that claims of this kind are generally made without a German copyright lawyer on hand to clarify the point. A German copyright expert would obviously make a welcome addition to future panels dealing with this issue.

The United States became a party to Berne in 1989. US copyright law is concerned with protecting “original works of authorship.” The recognized works include motion pictures and other audiovisual works. In US jurisprudence, sports games are not “authored” in the relevant sense so they are not “works.” Even so, sports broadcasts in the United States are entitled to copyright protection. The key to their protection is that the broadcasting of a game is understood as always involving the “fixing” of an audiovisual work, and the fact that this fixing occurs simultaneously with a transmission does not matter. This elegant solution was applied in 1976 and obviously did not prevent the US from later joining the Berne Convention.

Australia became a party to Berne in 1928. Australian copyright law is concerned with protecting “works” and “subject matter other than works.” The scope of protection for subject matter other than works is lower than that for traditional works, but this has not stopped them being treated as full copyright subject matter. Subject matter other than works include sound recordings, cinematograph films, and broadcasts. Copyright in a television broadcast is the exclusive right to make a cinematograph film or sound recording and to re-broadcast or communicate to the public otherwise than by re-broadcasting. The maker of the broadcast is the copyright owner. In Australia, copyright protection applies to the signal itself. There is no need to stretch the definition of “work” to include a broadcast. There is no need for the broadcast to contain a work.

These two examples demonstrate how a nation can recognize a certain type of copyright without compromising the minimum standards of Berne or being strangled by a debate about originality standards.

The sports broadcast problem could be solved in China if broadcasts were recognized as involving the fixing of a cinematographic work, of a work created by a process analogous to cinematography, or even of a video recording. Alternatively, some form of recognition could arise within the existing category of “other” works or through the mooted inclusion of a new general category of “audiovisual” works. These solutions would involve minimal disruption to China’s existing copyright system. All they would require would be an acknowledgement that a modern sports broadcasts satisfies a minimum standard of originality. It would not be necessary for a game of sport to be deemed a copyright work. Ultimately, though, these solutions would need to embrace a broad-based, technology-neutral definition of broadcast and they would need to depend on continued improvement in the availability and efficacy of urgent injunctive relief for copyright infringement.

China entertainment lawyerChina’s long-awaited Film Promotion Law was enacted by the Standing Committee of the PRC National People’s Congress on November 7, 2016 and is set to take effect on March 1, 2017. We last wrote about the Film Promotion Law when China’s National People’s Congress issued a draft for public comment in November 2015. The newly enacted Law does not differ markedly from the earlier draft. Below is a list of the main differences by reference to Article numbering:

1. Purpose — In addition to promoting the film industry, the purpose of the Law has been broadened to include promoting socialist core values and regulating film market “order”.

2. Streaming — Existing laws applicable to streaming of motion pictures on the Internet, telecommunication networks and radio networks will continue to apply.

5. National development plans — The State Council is to incorporate the development of the film industry into national economic and social development plans.

9. “Socialist core values” for cast & crew — Actors, directors and other professionals in the film industry must not only possess high artistic skill but also abide by socialist core values, social moral standards and professional ethics codes, comply with the law and build an excellent social image.

14. Confirmation of national treatment for official co-pros — This is a reiteration of the existing policy that co-productions meeting the ratio requirements with respect to creation, funding, profit distribution will be treated as motion pictures produced by domestic PRC legal entities.

15. Motion picture production license requirement deleted — Originally, a “film production license” requirement was imposed. Enterprises or organizations that had the appropriate personnel, funds and other resources were expressly entitled to engage in film production activities provided they received approval from the relevant film authorities at the provincial level.

18. Panel of “experts” — Reviews for production and exhibition approval will involve at least five experts. The draft Law did not specify the number of experts. A definition of “expert” is not provided. Experts will be selected from an “expert pool,” having regard to a picture’s theme. Specific measures on expert selection are to be promulgated by the relevant department of the State Council.

19. Second review process — If a picture’s content needs to be changed after a public release license has been obtained the film must go through a second review process. The draft Law provided that a public release license was to have been obtained after the second review process but the new Law deleted this requirement.

22. “Hurtful” or “harmful” business activities banned — Citizens, legal persons, and other organizations may undertake business activities that include the printing, processing, post-production of foreign films and must file with the relevant film administration department at the provincial level. What must be “filed” is not specified. Any business activities in connection with foreign films that contain content that could hurt PRC national dignity, honor and interests, social stability or ethnic unity will not be allowed.

29. “Reasonable arrangement” of screening times — In addition to making sure the total length of films produced by domestic legal persons/organizations is no less than 2/3 of the total length of all of the films released in a given year, movie theaters must also “reasonably arrange” the times and screenings when such films are being released.

31. In-theater anti-piracy — When theater personnel find someone is illegally recording a film, not only can they stop such behavior (as in the draft Law) they can also demand that such content be deleted and can ask those to leave immediately if they refuse to obey.

37. Stronger audit powers — The government is to “strengthen” audits of the use of funds in the film industry.

All up, the law is apparently intended to simplify the regulation of screenplays, film productions and exhibitions and the holding of foreign-related film festivals. There are no fundamental changes to the existing regulatory framework as it affects foreigners. Foreigners will still be prevented from engaging independently in film production in China. Foreigners will still be prevented from engaging in film distribution in China. No mention is made of any lifting of the quota on importing foreign films on a revenue-sharing basis. Still, many of the changes should streamline the official co-production process for foreign producers. There is also now express official recognition of the need for improvements in the system of film finance and the need for tax incentives for local producers.

Negotiating with Chinese companiesIn this series of posts I have been looking at themes explored by Lucian Pye in his work Chinese Commercial Negotiating Style. Pye concludes that the way most Sino-Foreign negotiations are conducted helps the Chinese side apply its preferred strategies and tactics. My first post looked at how Chinese companies tend to control the preliminaries during what I call the “courtship” phase. The second post considered what Pye says about the Chinese tendency to prefer agreements on generalities. In my third post I examined Pye on  specific Chinese negotiating tactics. In this final post I summarize Pye’s tips for negotiating with Chinese companies.

Take general principles seriously. According to Pye, the Chinese usually prefer to begin with agreement about general principles before moving to concrete items, while foreigners like to begin with specifics and avoid generalities. Agreement on generalities allows the Chinese to make headway by drawing subsequent negotiations back to the “spirit” of the agreement. If you follow the Chinese route it is imperative you decide ahead of time the precise general principles you are prepared to accept.

Avoid the indebtedness trap. Chinese negotiators often seek to put foreigners in a position where they will feel obligated or indebted. Pye says that foreign negotiators need to be aware of the obligations they may be accruing. They should be skeptical in the face of the “effusion of personal friendship” often used to elicit an acknowledgement of the indebtedness. See How NOT To Choose Your China Business Partner. And Why I Take Cabs.

Prevent exaggerated expectations. Exuberant Western sales techniques are often read to mean the foreigner is prepared to do more than they intend. Once the Chinese assume a relationship has been established they will genuinely count on generosity and flexibility from their partners. If the Chinese decline an offer of generosity in one instance, they may consider themselves entitled to ask for the same kind of generosity in future. Chinese “face-saving” can involve turning down initial offers but there is no loss of face in asking for help later.

Handle the shaming. When disappointed, Pye says, Chinese negotiators tend not to search for appropriate counter moves but attempt to shame the foreign party with moralistic appeals and denunciation. They believe that if the other party can be shamed into doing the “right” thing they will be grateful and not resentful. You can often satisfy the shaming tactic with symbolic responses.

Master the record. A Chinese negotiator will normally be completely knowledgeable about the deal history and will test the other side’s memory to advantage. What was previously discussed or settled may be contradicted in an attempt to take advantage of new negotiators or changed circumstances. There is a belief that foreigners are careless and deserve to be penalized if they make mistakes. Pye’s tip is that you keep an exact record of your negotiation history.

Control the damage. It will inevitably be necessary, at times, to adopt positions the Chinese may find offensive or that may violate their beliefs about how people with mutual interests should behave. Pye’s tip is to concentrate on limiting the damage and not engage in mutual recriminations, which will only convince the Chinese side that the foreign side is insecure. According to Pye, the Chinese have a strong need to publicize what they perceive as mistreatment. Avoid an aggressive defense at all cost. Better to pass something off as an unavoidable misunderstanding about which the Chinese side has the right to be upset.

Pye’s report was commissioned by the US Air Force in the early 1980s. As I said at the start of this series, though some of his political and economic observations are somewhat dated, I was nonetheless struck by his report’s enduring relevance and I now recommend it to anyone interested in doing business with China.

How to negotiate with Chinese companiesIn this series of posts I am looking at themes explored by Lucian Pye in his work Chinese Commercial Negotiating Style. Pye concludes that the way most Sino-Foreign negotiations are conducted helps the Chinese side apply its preferred strategies and tactics. My first post looked at how Chinese companies tend to control the preliminaries during what I have called the “courtship” phase. The second post considered what Pye has to say about the Chinese tendency to prefer agreements on generalities. In this third post I examine what he has to say about specific Chinese negotiating tactics.

According to Pye, Chinese negotiators tend to use the following tactics:

Open with flattery — In response to flattering remarks the foreigner feels compelled to give an enthusiastic affirmation. The foreigner is then called on to give an emphatic denial of a feigned, self-deprecating remark. This puts the foreigner on the back foot from the outset.

Operate on two levels — There is the manifest level of bargaining about the concrete and there is also the latent level at which attempts are made to strike emotional bargains based on dependency. Chinese negotiators seek relations in which the foreigner will feel solicitous toward China, thus implicitly becoming a protector and more a superior than an equal.

Focus on mutual interests — Westerners like to think of themselves as conciliators. The Chinese tend to reject the principle of compromise and prefer instead to stress mutual interests. When mutual interests have been established it is easier to ask the foreign party to bear a heavier burden without protest.

Use meetings as seminars — Negotiations are seen partly as information-gathering operations. Foreign competitors are played off against against one another to extract maximum technical intelligence from presentations. Negotiating sessions are used frequently for training purposes. The foreigner is encouraged to perform so as to impress the passive Chinese host. The obliging guest entertains in repayment for hospitality and brings “gifts of knowledge”. Put simply, Chinese companies often claim to want to do a deal with you when all they really want is to get access to your technology or know-how. I cannot stress enough how often our China lawyers see this sort of situation.

Blur the lines of authority — You can’t tell who reports to whom or where the apparent leader fits in the hierarchy of the Chinese company. Negotiating teams tend to be large but the lines of authority are diffuse and vague. Chinese negotiators are often unsure of their mandates and of the probable decisions of their superiors. They therefore tend to give inaccurate signals about the state of negotiations. Foreigners persist in trying to find a particular person who has command authority at each level. In China it cannot be assumed that power is tied to responsibility. Proof of a person’s importance often lies precisely in their being shielded from accountability.

Never say “no” — Chinese negotiators will frequently seem to be agreeing when they say something is “possible” but often this is an ambiguous way of saying “no”. They will often respond with silence to a proposal and then at a much later date suddenly return with interest.

Never telegraph their next move — Chinese negotiators don’t telegraph their next moves through displays of emotion. The level of friendliness or impersonality remains the same whether negotiations are heading for success or failure. This brings surprises. Warm and progressively friendly meetings can lead to disappointing outcomes. Chinese negotiators are quite prepared to end meetings or negotiations on a negative note. As negotiators often have little authority they often find it prudent to maintain a negative attitude. At the same time, apparently disinterested negotiators can suddenly announce that a positive agreement is possible.

Exploit Chinese members of the foreign team — Ethnic Chinese associated with the foreign team will be sought out in the belief that they are naturally sympathetic to China. Our China attorneys have also seen many instances where an Ethnic Chinese person on the foreign side is accused of disloyalty for not siding with the Chinese side in the negotiations — always in Chinese, of course.

Use “shaming” — Chinese negotiators may be quick to point out “mistakes” in an effort to put the foreign party on the defensive. There is a deep belief that people will be shattered by the shame of their faults so there is a tendency to make an issue over trivial slip-ups and misstatements.

Make big asks — Chinese negotiators often have no hesitation in presenting what they must understand are unacceptable demands. These demands are often accompanied by a hint that they will be withdrawn in return for only modest or symbolic concessions. Extreme language is often used to obtain symbolic victories.

Stall — Chinese negotiators are masters of creative use of fatigue. They have, according to Pye, great staying power and almost no capacity for boredom. These traits keep foreigners’ hopes alive. This approach may also reflect lack of experience, bureaucratic problems or a subordinate’s fear of criticism from above. Conversely, when agreement reached it is often the Chinese who become impatient for deliveries by the foreigners. For more on this tactic, see Doing Business In China Requires Patience. Don’t Just Be Leaving On That China Jet Plane.

As I have said before, Pye never moralizes or suggests there is anything wrong with the Chinese approach. He merely points out how different it is from the typical Western approach, leaving readers to conclude that foreigners ignore or disregard Chinese negotiating tactics at their own peril. This is certainly consistent with our view that one should not rush to blame the Chinese when things go wrong.

In my final post in this series I will outline Pye’s tips for foreigners when negotiating with Chinese companies.

Negotiating with Chinese CompaniesIn this series of posts I am looking at themes explored by Lucian Pye in his work Chinese Commercial Negotiating Style and how they relate to negotiating with Chinese companies. Pye concludes that most Sino-American negotiations are initiated in a way that helps the Chinese side achieve its preferred strategies and tactics. My first post, Contract Preliminaries and Courtship Rituals, looked at how Chinese companies tend to control the preliminaries during what I have called the “courtship” phase. In this post we will see what Pye has to say about the Chinese tendency to prefer agreements on generalities.

Pye observes that Chinese culture traditionally shuns legal considerations and instead stresses ethical and moralistic principles. By contrast, Westerners are thought to be highly legalistic. The Chinese tend to reject the typical Western notion that agreement is best sought by focusing on specific details and concrete matters while avoiding discussions of generalities or rhetoric. The Chinese prefer to agree on general principles before dealing with details. They can, Pye says, be tenacious in holding to their principles but surprisingly flexible about details. The Chinese focus is on the “spirit” of the deal. Agreement on principles usually takes the form of letters of intent or protocols, the purpose of which often mystifies the Westerner. The Chinese attach great importance to symbols and symbolic matters. Symbols such as the spirit of the agreement have a reality for the Chinese and there is a distinct Chinese bias in favor of the publicity or “face” these symbols can generate.

The Chinese, Pye says, conceive of their business relationships in longer and more continuous terms than Westerners. They expect an agreement to set the stage for a growing relationship in which it will be proper for the Chinese to make increasing demands. A proclivity for seemingly unending negotiations can even make the Chinese insensitive to the possibility that “canceling” contracts may cause trouble in the relationship with the foreign party. From the Chinese perspective, nothing about a contract is ever final. Westerners usually think a contract will provide for a given period of fixed and predictable behavior but the Chinese look for continuous bargaining and regard this bargaining itself as suggesting an enduring relationship. For Westerners there can be a great deal of give and take before agreement is reached, but afterwards the expectation is that neither party should lean on the other to seek further advantages. For the Chinese, the very achievement of a formalized agreement, like the initial agreement on principles, means that the parties now understand one other well enough that each can expect further favors. They will therefore not hesitate to suggest changes immediately on the heels of an agreement. They tend not to treat the signing of a contract as signaling a completed agreement.

Pye advances several explanations for the Chinese tendency to seek early agreement on general principles. First, he says, it is easier to extract concessions when details are to be worked out later on. Second, agreement on principles can easily be turned into agreement on goals. This can in turn support a later insistence that all discussion of concrete issues must support these goals. Finally, Pye says, agreement on general principles can be used later to substantiate tactical claims of bad faith.

More on tactics in the next post in this series.

One final point: Pye never moralizes or suggests there is anything wrong with the Chinese approach. He merely points out how different it is from the typical Western approach, leaving readers to conclude that foreigners ignore or disregard the Chinese negotiating tactics at their own peril. This is certainly consistent with our view that one should not rush to blame the Chinese when things go wrong.

Negotiating with Chinese CompaniesIn the early 1980s the US Air Force commissioned Lucian Pye, an eminent sinologist, to write a report on how Chinese negotiate with foreigners. Published in 1982, it was called Chinese Commercial Negotiating Style.

A friend of mine recommended Pye’s work to me recently, saying he wished he had read it twenty years ago when he first started working in China. Based on extensive interviews with Americans engaged in China trade, Pye’s paper analyzes the negotiating style the Chinese use with American businesspeople. To control for American cultural bias, Japanese traders were also interviewed. Pye’s overall conclusion was that the way most Sino-American negotiations are initiated usually sets in motion a process that helps the Chinese side achieve its preferred strategies and tactics.

Though some of Pye’s political and economic observations are, quite understandably, now rather dated, I was nonetheless struck by his report’s enduring relevance and, like my friend, I now recommend it to anyone interested in doing business with China. To merely summarize his work would be to do it a disservice so I have attempted to draw out some of his major themes and look at them in a series of posts. A recurring theme is Chinese mastery of contractual preliminaries.

In Pye’s view, foreigners often follow the historical practice of coming as guests seeking permission to do business in China. This naturally casts them in the role of supplicants asking for Chinese beneficence. They are visitors from afar and their hosts call the tune on the procedures and the timing of meetings. Problems associated with visas, invitations and access to officials or business leaders contribute to foreign anxiety about “doing the wrong thing” when doing business in China. So when problems arise, the foreigners are prone to suspect they are somehow at fault. In this way, the Chinese hosts gain the advantages of surprise and uncertainty in agenda arrangements.

According to Pye, the Chinese tend to limit preliminary exchanges to generalities so as to size up the foreign party and to determine its vulnerabilities, especially any lack of patience. At the same time, foreign business leaders tend to jump straight in. The novelty and status associated with visiting China frequently compel foreign CEOs to be the first to engage in talks with the Chinese, without waiting for subordinates to prepare the ground. The graciousness and bountifulness of Chinese hospitality can make the foreign visitor feel awkward about being too businesslike. Consequently, foreign CEOs tend to be very obliging in following the Chinese practice of seeking initial agreement on very general principles, without clarification on the specific details. Much of what occurs at the preliminary stage has a tacit quality and foreigners frequently misjudge their progress. In taking this approach, Pye says, foreigners violate one of the first principles of negotiations and diplomacy — summit meetings should never take place without extensive preliminary spadework by subordinates.

When mid level executives are later sent in to work out the details of a contract they usually discover that the Chinese want to rely on the agreed “principles” that were put in place by the CEO. Such principles were often taken by the foreigners to be no more than ritual statements but the Chinese tend to use them to practical advantage by suggesting the other party has not lived up to their “spirit.” See China LOI and MOU: Don’t Let Them Happen to You. Instant authorities on China, these CEOs returned from their initial visits to report success, saying they found the Chinese to be cooperative and gracious. The mid level executives and others tasked with working out details then come under great pressure. They are constrained to avoid acting in ways that might irritate the Chinese and spoil relationships established by the boss. So, when the big guns are sent in first the foreigners lose the advantage of dispatching their highest people for critical negations at the consummation of the deal. Their second appearances must now be limited to generalities where civilities prevail.

I found Pye’s observations both persuasive and broadly consistent with my own experience. Having said that, he is clearly more concerned with the affairs of government and large corporations than he is with SMEs or creatives who may not have support available from a middle level of management or administration. The pitfalls Pye identifies can be minimized, he says, if foreigners recognize that in the initial stages of negotiations, the Chinese usually only want highly generalized in-principle agreement to the effect that a relationship is possible.

In my next post I will look at what Pye has to say about Chinese attitudes to contract formation.

China entertainment lawProtection of IP is an ongoing concern for foreign businesses with projects or investments in the entertainment business in China. Many foreigners mistakenly believe their intellectual property cannot be protected at all in China so they overlook or disregard the protections available to them under Chinese law. In response to these concerns and beliefs, the UK Government, the British Film Institute and the Producers Alliance for Cinema & Television (PACT) recently collaborated to prepare a new UK-China Film & TV Toolkit.

The Toolkit includes a template, special-purpose non-disclosure agreement for use by UK film and TV businesses when dealing with their Chinese partners. Also included are detailed explanatory notes guiding UK businesses on the applicable principles of confidentiality, copyright and trademarks under PRC law. The template NDA forming part of the Toolkit was prepared according to PRC law and practice and is bilingual. It is hoped that the Toolkit will allow its users to avoid common pitfalls, including those arising from inappropriate choices of law and jurisdiction.

In liaison with Tom Duke, the UK’s Intellectual Property Attaché to China, our China entertainment law team represented the UK Government, the BFI and PACT on the project and prepared the NDA and the explanatory notes making up the Toolkit.

Intended users of the Toolkit include creative companies, producers, sales companies, VFX houses, and service providers such as film studios and consultants operating in the UK film or TV industries. The Toolkit is intended to assist these businesses to protect themselves when they disclose creative materials or commercial information, especially during the initial phase of negotiations during which an appropriate deal structure needs to be worked out. In general the Toolkit will encourage creative collaboration and openness in business dealings.

Among other things, the Toolkit covers the following:

  • How China’s confidentiality and trade secret laws differ from those of common law jurisdictions such as the US and the UK
  • The basic requirements for protecting trade secrets in China
  • The limits to protection and how protection can be lost
  • Why contracts with Chinese parties should always be bilingual
  • Why Chinese law and jurisdiction should be chosen in most instances
  • How protection under an NDA should be supplemented by trademark and copyright registrations in China

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the UK’s Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property, has been visiting  China this week. The visit program has included high level bilateral meetings, policy exchanges and external stakeholder events. The visit will culminate in The UK-China IP Symposium in Beijing on Friday August 26th. The Symposium marks the 20th year of UK Intellectual Property Office cooperation with China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO). As the flagship UK-China IP event, the Symposium will be co-hosted by Commissioner Shen Changyu of SIPO and Baroness Neville-Rolfe.

The Toolkit will be launched officially at the Symposium. I will introduce the Toolkit in a special session of the Symposium and explain how it will help protect intellectual property and encourage creative collaboration. There will also be sessions on promoting innovation through patents and designs and on the UK’s IP enforcement strategy to 2020. To reserve a place at the Symposium please contact Shi.Hui@fco.gov.uk.

For further information about the Toolkit please contact the BFI or PACT.

index-315754_960_720This is the third in a series of posts about getting paid by a Chinese company. In Have the Rules Changed? I looked briefly at the underlying framework of rules that apply to foreign conversions and remittances. Is there a PRC Tax Problem? dealt with some of the tax-related issues that cause payment delays or defaults. In this third post I look at some basic due diligence that can identify or avoid defaults or delays in money transfers out of China.

If you don’t get paid, ask yourself these questions before you rush to blame the Chinese company:

1. Do you have any idea what taxes should have been paid by the Chinese company and what taxes should be deducted from the remittance itself?

2. Was your contract exempt from the kind of prior registrations required by the tax authorities?

3. Do you even have an enforceable contract against the Chinese company in China?

4. Has an independent person gone down to the Chinese company’s bank branch to confirm what their particular requirements and concerns are?

5. Did you withhold any deliverables until you received all or substantially all of the money out of China?

6. Did you ask the Chinese company to provide examples of previous successful foreign remittances?

7. Does the business license of the Chinese company allow for foreign trade and thereby indicate that foreign remittances would not be unusual in the ordinary course of business?

8. If you’re dealing with a State Owned Entity (SOE), or a very large company of any kind, did you understand all of the internal approvals that company would require before a payment could be authorized and did you appreciate how long this might take?

If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, don’t blame the Chinese company.

China taxes

This is the second in a series of posts about problems encountered when attempting to get paid by a Chinese company. In Chinese Company Won’t Wire You Money. Have the Rules Changed? I looked briefly at the underlying framework of rules applying to foreign conversions and remittances. In this post I consider tax-related issues that can often cause payment delays or defaults. These issues vary depending on the nature of the payment. Let’s look at the three areas of payment encountered most by our China lawyers.

Payments to foreign service providers. These days the Chinese tax authorities routinely impose a tax on all payments from Chinese companies to foreign service providers. The problem is identifying the appropriate tax. Is it withholding, VAT, business tax, income tax or some combination? Even when the appropriate kind of tax, or combination of taxes, has been determined there is little consistency on the percentage amount of tax withheld.

Royalties. Where there is a royalty payment for a technology or an IP transfer, the underlying contract is supposed to be registered, which can be a time-consuming procedure in certain districts. For example, where the royalty is for a license to publish, the license must be approved by the Beijing authorities in charge of that area of publication. Where the license is for a trademark, the license must be registered with the trademark office. If there is no registration, no payment can be made. For royalty payments, the liability to withholding and VAT is clearer but there is still little consistency on the rates of tax and how they are combined.

FDI or M&A. Such payments from China require approval and usually this approval must come from Beijing. Approval is uncertain and the authorities may change their minds. Thus, a transaction that the Chinese side in good faith assumed was approved can be denied at the last minute, due to a sudden and unexplained denial of permission to remit.

There are two difficulties common to all three kinds of remittances.

First, tax authorities in many districts now require proof of the existence of the foreign payment recipient. Compliance with this additional requirement often involves production of a certificate of good standing authenticated by the Chinese embassy or consulate in the foreign country concerned. This is expensive and time-consuming.

Second, the procedures are often interpreted and applied differently from bank-to-bank, branch-to-branch and district-to-district. The tax rates, too, are not always consistent from district-to-district and even within districts from officer-to-officer. The whole situation is in flux.

The result is that there is really no way that any side of a China deal can be completely certain that a payment will go through until after the payment is received.

In my next post I will look at the due diligence you can do to identify or avoid defaults or delays in money transfers out of China.

China lawyers

Our China lawyers have seen a spike in queries from foreign companies encountering problems getting paid by Chinese companies. I’m talking mostly about private Chinese companies without affiliates or assets abroad. This is the first post in a series I will be writing on the new issues in getting money out of China.

An excuse commonly offered to the foreigner by the Chinese company is that the rules have recently changed so foreign payments are no longer possible or practicable. Another one is that the Chinese company is simply not allowed to send more that $50,000 at a time or even $50,000 in total each year. Is there any truth in this?

The underlying regulations have not changed and there is no limit on the amount that can be remitted abroad by a compliant Chinese company. But Chinese banks are becoming much stricter with certain types of remittances. This new strictness has come about in an effort to limit fraudulent capital outflows and to make sure tax is paid in China before money leaves the country.

Chinese law generally requires a Chinese company to obtain a “tax certificate” from its local tax bureau before more than $50,000 worth of RMB can be converted into a foreign currency and remitted abroad. As the name might suggest, the certificate confirms that the Chinese company has made all necessary tax payments on the money or has some kind of exemption for the money. To obtain the certificate the Chinese company needs to submit copies of the relevant contracts (and oftentimes invoices) and provide particulars of the transaction. The tax certificate must be presented to the foreign exchange bank before the payment transaction occurs.

The regulations provide for a blanket $50,000 exemption from approval. No proof or justification is required, up to the $50,000 limit. However, in June of last year, Chinese banks began arbitrarily denying requests for RMB conversion of amounts below the $50,000 limit.

Sometimes, the real problem, especially with larger remittances, is simply that the Chinese company can’t get a tax certificate, or doesn’t want to get a tax certificate, because that would require it to pay tax it wasn’t planning on paying. To be fair, problems sometimes arise when the Chinese company genuinely wants to make a remittance and is prepared to pay the applicable taxes. These problems vary depending on the type of payment. They mostly affect payments for services, royalty payments and Foreign FDI or M&A payments. Payments for the purchase of goods are generally not as complicated, so long as the foreign side has its own paperwork in order as well.

In my next post I will look at the delays and complications affecting different types of payments.