Copycat car­toon or­dered by court to pay penalty

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By RAY­MOND ZHOU ray­mondzhou@chi­

A Shanghai Pudong dis­trict court sen­tenced two Chi­nese com­pa­nies to pay 1.35 mil­lion yuan ($194,500) to two Hol­ly­wood stu­dios on Thurs­day for in­fring­ing on their copy­righted ma­te­rial.

On July 4, 2015, The Au­to­bots, a Chi­nese an­i­mated film pro­duced by Xi­a­men-based Bluemtv and dis­trib­uted by Beijing G-Point Film Cul­ture Me­dia Co, was re­leased. It gen­er­ated an in­stant back­lash when Chi­nese movie­go­ers found the film’s ti­tle, poster and main char­ac­ters to be eerily sim­i­lar to Cars and its se­quel, pro­duced by Pixar An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios and re­leased by Walt Dis­ney Pic­tures. Many Chi­nese par­ents wrote on­line that they had been tricked into buy­ing tick­ets to The Au­to­bots be­cause they thought they were for screen­ings of Cars.

The court, af­ter com­par­ing the movies, de­ter­mined that the im­ages of K1 and K2, of The Au­to­bots, vi­o­lated the copy­right of the movies from the United States be­cause they re­sem­bled the main char­ac­ters in the Cars fran­chise in the per­son­i­fied fa­cial por­tray­als. But the two posters had suf­fi­cient dif­fer­ences in com­po­si­tion and back­ground to not add to the of­fense.

The court con­cluded that Cars be­longs to “a name brand”, which is pro­tected un­der Chi­nese law. While the plain­tiffs claimed that the US movies’ of­fi­cial Chi­nese ti­tle Saiche Zong­dongyuan had an

al­ter­nate name Qiche Zong­dongyuan, the court said the de­fen­dant’s ti­tle Qicheren Zong­dongyuan would not be con­fused with them. But the cover-up of the cru­cial word ren in the poster, by the im­age of a wheel, made it prone to mis­un­der­stand­ing and hence con­sti­tuted un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.

Back when The Au­to­bots was in the­aters, Zhuo Jian­rong, its di­rec­tor, had de­nied pub­lic charges of pla­gia­rism.

He claimed that he had not seen Cars and was not even aware of its char­ac­ters’ names. “All mo­tor ve­hi­cles are some­what alike. Is it il­le­gal if you hap­pen to look like some­body else?” He said he was legally al­lowed to use any movie ti­tle that had not been reg­is­tered in China.

Sub­se­quently, Zhuo got into a vir­tual scuf­fle with mem­bers of the pub­lic who said he brought shame to the in­dus­try.

There were re­porters who checked the con­tent of Zhuo’s movie, about a wun­derkind who de­signed three cars with dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, and found it to have lit­tle sim­i­lar­ity with the Hol­ly­wood an­i­ma­tion. Still, the movie was widely viewed by the Chi­nese pub­lic as a shoddy copycat that “shame­lessly” ripped off a widely known work.

The Au­to­bots was one of the low­est rated films in 2015, re­ceiv­ing 2.2 on Mtime, 2.1 on Douban and 2.5 on Ge­wara, all out of 10 points. Many web­sites called it “ex­ceed­ing the low­est limit of a do­mes­tic an­i­ma­tion film”. It grossed 5.64 mil­lion yuan in to­tal at the box of­fice.

The irony is, the same sea­son saw the birth of the best-sell­ing and greatly re­viewed Chi­nese an­i­ma­tion. Mon­key King: Hero Is Back was pro­pelled to the record of 1 bil­lion yuan in box-of­fice tak­ings, the high­est for a do­mes­tic an­i­mated fea­ture, with stel­lar word-of-mouth. The film was an ef­fort to marry char­ac­ters of a pop­u­lar Chi­nese le­gend with Hol­ly­wood-style sto­ry­telling.

On the film site Mtime, the court ver­dict was an­nounced with the head­line: “Great news! The Au­to­bots was fined 1.35 mil­lion yuan for pla­gia­rism.”


Posters of Cars (left) and TheAu­to­bots show the sim­i­lar­ity of the two an­i­ma­tion films.

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