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Student artist fights corporate plagiarism

2014-12-03 13:12 China.org.cn Web Editor: Li Yan
Kids Who Chase the Balloon

Kids Who Chase the Balloon

An article called "Teenagers Cannot Be Bullied" has spread widely on the Internet since it was first published on Nov. 30 by the Guangzhou Daily.

In the article, Niko Edwards, a 19-year-old high school graduate and photography enthusiast from south China's Guangdong province, bitterly condemned Youku and Momo, two powerful Internet video content providers, for plagiarizing his original photographic concept in their commercial advertising.

Niko has been a keen photographer since childhood. Forming a six-person team, he set up a workshop devoted to photography and video production. One of their concepts was to shoot scenery on Earth from a hot air balloon. The web page devoted to their art has become popular as a result.

According to e-mails released by Niko between himself and Youku, the latter invited him to record a video program about his team's work. However, for several reasons, the collaboration failed to materialize. Much to Niko's surprise, Youku later released an advertising video - "Kids Who Chase the Balloon" - without his permission.

"Youku and Momo illegally copied our original concept and production process. It's pure cheating. We didn't realize their intention until now," he said.

"Now, we understand they were asking us questions not for the purpose of making a joint video. Instead, their so-called cooperation was just to steal our ideas and filming methods."

Youku announced on Monday it did contact Niko on Oct. 8 and the two sides started to exchange emails on Oct. 10, focusing on cooperation. However, one week later, the video director decided to choose an actor and an actress from Beijing instead of Guangdong after a comprehensive and practical evaluation.

On Nov. 4, the program coordinator e-mailed Niko about Youku's decision to suspend the cooperation.

Speaking of whether the incident constituted a copyright infringement, Youku argued that even if it technically did, the negotiations for cooperation were still at far too early a stage to be considered a real infringement. However, out of respect for the original creators of the concept and to protect the original work, Youku issued a public apology.

"The video program has the same name as some of Niko's articles, and the plot is similar to Niko's experiences. In particular, the pictures of the Earth are very similar to the ones he published," Youku conceded.

The incident has triggered hot debate on the Internet about copyright protection. Support came from all quarters including Zhang Ziyi, a well-known Chinese film actress, who said that everyone is equal with regards to copyright protection, even if they are not adults.

However, some people pointed out that Niko was not the first to put forward the idea of shooting scenery on the Earth from a hot air balloon. They listed some examples like Robert Harrison, a British IT company boss who put forward the idea as early as 2010; another 19-year-old British boy who used GPS-controlled aerial photographic equipment to shoot videos as good as those produced by NASA and had uploaded them to Youku in 2012; and an American middle school student did the same thing in 2012. Other examples were cited from neighboring Asian countries like Japan and South Korea.

Legal professionals also commented on the incident. You Yunting, a senior partner of Shanghai-based DeBund Law Offices, said that according to China's Contract Law, in the process of concluding a contract, if one party causes losses to another, it is liable to pay damages.

"I think Youku's action constitutes contract negligence in this case, if the young man can prove that Youku staff obtained his idea and aerial photography experience by cheating him in the name of consulting for a video production," You said.

Some Internet insiders are suspicious of the whole incident, saying it might be an advertising technique by Momo, a client of Youku entrusted to shoot the video, which was to blame while Youku was only a scapegoat for a deal gone bad.

Commentators suggested that Momo, as the entrusted party, could solve the problem without damaging itself by only making an apology and paying compensation, while Youku has to take all the responsibility.

Xi Po, a media commentator, said the controversy was typical of a changing situation in recent years where the public have shown less tolerance towards plagiarism, especially when large companies and celebrities were involved.

"I treated this case optimistically," Xi said. "It makes companies realize that even young people enjoy copyright protection that cannot be violated. All creativity has to be respected. Social respect for knowledge is gradually being built up this way. I hope we can use this event to steer away from a culture of piracy."

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