IPR protection key for video streaming

By Cui Bowen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/19 20:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Recently, two of China's most popular video platforms and leading animation, comic and game websites Bilibili and AcFun temporarily removed most of the overseas TV shows and films uploaded by users, as part of an inspection of online video content.

Despite the unclear explanation given for the removal of a vast collection of popular overseas movies and television shows, some industry experts said the content might have been culled because of copyright protection issues.

In recent years, Bilibili and AcFun have gained wide popularity among younger people starving for quality content. Users can display real-time comments onto a video for others to see, a new way for viewers to interact with each other and make the viewing experience more social. The uploading and sharing of exclusive streaming works by registered users, as well as a lack of commercials, brought the two websites many fans. Some users also take part in fan subtitling clubs that work to provide subtitles for hundreds of hours of overseas content.

However, success breeds its own set of problems. The two platforms have become the hardest hit in a crackdown on pirated streaming content. Given the substantial investment in time, money and resources that goes into producing original content like TV shows and films, infringement upon intellectual property rights (IPR) violates the legitimate rights and interests of content producers. Piracy also indicates that the unauthorized videos have not gone through the official scrutiny and verification process. Although Bilibili has begun to purchase copyrights of some animated series as it grows, it is still treading in a grey area with a huge amount of unauthorized video content.

Against this backdrop, a sound IPR protection mechanism in the video-streaming industry is urgently needed.

First, Chinese authorities should reinforce people's legal awareness to protect IPR and keep law enforcement up to speed with changes in the Internet era. Generally speaking, a lack of legal awareness of IPR protection among the Chinese public derives from an inadequate copyright protection system. In this regard, China's TV and film watchdog and relevant copyright administrative organs should issue a set of measures to make audiences familiar with China's principles and position on copyright protection and raise their awareness of IPR protection, and clamp down on piracy and illegal transmission of streaming content.

In addition, the legislative body should introduce amendments to the copyright law to keep up with the lightning-fast growth of the Internet and audio-visual industries, and stipulate certain legal conditions under which viewers have access to online streaming works.

Second, a transparent and comprehensive Internet public opinion monitoring system should be carried forward. Relevant institutions collect comments from major social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat around the clock, and analyze how online public opinion is trending. The research findings can serve as a reference to guide public opinion in protecting copyrights of streaming content.

Information transparency should be enhanced as it, to some extent, can help netizens coordinate with official campaigns to strengthen media regulation and supervision. Otherwise, the lack of information transparency will trigger net users' dismay and anxiety over administrative curbs. The wide backlash among young users against the sudden removal of a large quantity of overseas TV dramas and movies on AcFun and Bilibili is partly due to the obscure reasons provided by the websites and media watchdog.

Third, video-sharing platforms should also increase online inspection over streaming content. A feasible way would be that livestreaming websites commercialize the operation by buying the copyrights and charging users for viewing. For example, some successful video streaming sites, such as Tencent Video, Sohu TV and iQiyi, have developed a relatively mature business model of paid viewing. Users need to pay for a VIP account to watch certain videos. IQiyi also started cooperating with overseas streaming giant Netflix by reaching a licensing deal, under which some Netflix original productions will be on iQiyi at the same time as their premiere elsewhere.

Last but not least, cloud computing and big data analysis can be applied to Chinese video platforms, so they can introduce overseas quality content and develop self-produced streaming works that are tailored for their users. Figures from entertainment research institute Entgroup show that people born in the 1980s and 1990s account for 88 percent of streaming platform users. They are fond of a variety of genres including urban romance, campus life and fantasy adventure. By analyzing viewers' data, video-streaming platforms can easily obtain information like audience's preferences. As paying for streaming content is becoming a new trend in China, Chinese video platforms need to ramp up efforts to introduce foreign programs and produce local streaming content, in a bid to bring more paid subscribers to their platforms.

The government's tough oversight over the IPR of streaming content and the entertainment industry will continue along with the fast-paced development of the Internet. Although users may gain limited access to free streaming content in the foreseeable future, IPR protection is essential for a more regulated online environment and for video-streaming to blossom in the long run.

The author is a postgraduate student in translation studies at Beijing Language and Culture University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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