As is true in most of the world, one need not actually register a copyright to have one in China. This oftentimes leads companies not to bother registering their copyrights.
The problem with not registering your copyright in China is that it is nearly impossible to prevail in a copyright lawsuit unless and until your copyright has been registered. Foreign companies too often think this is no big deal, figuring that if anyone infringes on their copyright, they will register it and then sue. The problem is that securing a copyright registration in China typically takes 12-18 months.
If a Chinese company is violating your copyright and you cannot sue for another year, it becomes difficult to stop the Chinese company from infringing. You can write a cease and desist letter, of course, but it will not be very powerful because you will not be able to cite to any registered copyright and the infringing company will figure it has at least another year or so before it really needs to worry. This delay is particularly problematic for gaming companies because by the time they can sue for a copyright violation of their game, that game may no longer even exist in its previous incarnation.
Registering copyrights for video games in China is very much like doing so in the United States and in the EU. Because of this, when we do such registrations, we usually just track what has already been done in the U.S. or the EU.
Registering video games in China usually consists of the following:
- Registering the source code using China’s special software registration rules.
- Registering the artwork as a work of art. The normal strategy for video games is to treat each character as a work of art. If there are special locations, these are also treated as a work of art. Our China copyright lawyers typically bundle up all artwork and register that in one filing. The exact physical item sent to the registration authority depends on the nature of the work.
China copyright registrations are not expensive and it is better to register too much rather than too little.