[Crosplus Home Furnishing (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. v. Beijing Zhongrong Hengsheng Wood Industry Co. and Nanjing Mengyang Furniture Sales Center (copyright infringement case)]
Basic facts: In January 2009, Plaintiff Crosplus Furnishing (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. (“Crosplus”) designed a furniture drawing titled “Tang-style Cloakroom Furniture”. In July of the same year, Crosplus commissioned Shanghai Aoshi Photographic Design Co., Ltd. to take photos of a series of furniture it made, and Crosplus worked to introduce to promote the company and its products on 51hejia.com and fang.com. On December 10, 2013, Crosplus applied for copyright registration of the three-dimensional drawing of the “Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe.”
Defendant Nanjing Mengyang Furniture Sales Center (“Mengyang”) is a distributor for Defendant Beijing Zhongrong Hengsheng Wood Co., Ltd. (“Zhongrong”) in Nanjing. Crosplus discovered that the “Tang-style Redwood Cloakroom” sold by Mengyang under a “Boundary Crossing” brand was identical to its “Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe”. Crosplus believed that its “Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe” is a work of applied art, and Zhongrong was infringing on its rights to reproduce and distribute such work, while Mengyang infringed on its right to distribute the work. Crosplus subsequently filed suit.
Results: (1) Zhongrong shall immediately stop the production and sale of products infringing on the copyright of the “Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe” work of Crosplus; (2) Mengyang shall immediately stop the sale of products infringing the copyright of the “Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe” work of Crosplus; and (3) Zhongrong shall pay Crosplus RMB 300,000 for its economic losses (including reasonable costs) within ten days from the effective date of this judgment.
The main issues in this case:
I. Whether the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe is a work protected by the Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China
Pursuant to Article 2 of the Regulations on the Implementation of the Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China (the “Implementing Regulations”), works as defined in the Copyright Law refer to intellectual achievements in the fields of literature, art and science that are original and can be reproduced in some tangible form. Paragraph 8 of Article 4 stipulates that a work of art refers to a flat or three-dimensional work of plastic art with aesthetic significance composed of lines, colors or other elements, such as painting, calligraphy, sculpture, etc. The Copyright Law of this nation protects the author’s original expression in the work, but not the ideas reflected in the work itself. To wit, it protects the originality in the artistic shape or pattern of the work, i.e. its structure or form. In addition to its general and special constituent elements, the practicality and aesthetics of a work of applied art must also be separable from each other in order to be protected by the Copyright Law.
The patterns and colors of the wooden board of the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe were independently designed and completed by Crosplus on its own, and they reflect the creativity of Crosplus through the selection, choice, design and layout. The work possesses aesthetic significance, and shows a level of artistic creation seen in works of fine art. As to whether the practical function of the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe can be separated from its artistic beauty, since its practical function of placing and displaying clothes as cloakroom furniture will not be affected by changing the patterns, colors and texture of the wooden board, the arrangement of metal accessories, and the Chinese-style symmetrical design, the practical function and artistic beauty of the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe can be separated from each other and exist independently.
In summary, the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe is a three-dimensional work of plastic arts combining both practical function and aesthetic significance, thus it is a work of fine art protected by the Copyright Law.
II. Whether Zhongrong infringed on the copyright of the work as claimed by Crosplus
In determining whether an alleged infringing product infringes another person’s work that is protected by the Copyright Law, two aspects shall be taken into account: Whether the accused infringer has “access” to the work, and whether the alleged infringing product is “substantially similar” to the work. For a work of fine art that combines practical function and aesthetic significance, the Copyright Law only protects its artistic aspect, but not its practical function. In determining whether there is substantial similarity between the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe from Crosplus and the alleged infringing product of Zhongrong Co., the comparison should be based on their artistry elements. A comparison between the Tang-style Cloakroom Furniture and the alleged infringing product Tang-style Redwood Cloakroom shows the following similarities: they are both generally L-shaped, share a similar wardrobe door panel layout, have identical accessory decorations, and are similar in the wood panel texture and overall design, among others. The differences are mainly in the angle of the L-shaped corners and the internal space separation of the wardrobes, which are mainly practical functions aspects and have no impact on their overall visual effects, thus they do not make the two significantly distinct from each other. In summary, the alleged infringing product of Zhongrong is substantially similar to the Tang-style Cloakroom Combination Wardrobe made by Crosplus, hence Zhongrong has infringed on the copyrighted work of Crosplus.