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Disney, Pixar Win Chinese Copyright Infringement Case

1 Jan, 2017 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The Autobots

A Shanghai court has awarded Disney Enterprises Inc. and Pixar 1.35 million yuan ($194,440 dollars) in a rare piracy win after two Chinese companies were found guilty of using characters from animated box office hits Cars and Cars 2, according to Xinhua news agency.

China is no stranger to copyright infringement of Hollywood fare, with the Motion Picture Association of America last year filing litigation against Xunlei, a Chinese-language video and music file-sharing site alleging streaming pirated content.

While the court said Chinese animated movie The Autobots has a separate storyline from Cars, it found lead characters “K1” and “K2” too closely resembled "Lightening McQueen" and "Francesco Bernoulli" from Cars and Cars 2.

The court ordered producer Bluemtv and distributor G-Point to jointly pay Disney 1 million yuan in economic losses, in addition to 350,000 yuan in legal fees. 

While the monetary judgment seems minimal considering the Chinese theatrical market is poised to surpass North America this year, rumblings inside China about Autobots surfaced shortly after its 2015 release, with some moviegoers complaining about the similarity with the two Pixar films released in 2006 and 2011. Indeed, Autobots generated a reported $864,000 at the Chinese box office on a budget of $431,000. 

“Chinese consumers feel ripped off and expect more now from domestic productions,” Eric Priest, a copyright law professor at the University of Oregon, told The New York Times. “Disgruntled audiences, more than any law, could have a huge impact in the future on whether producers in China turn away from egregious copying.”

With Disney recently opening its $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney theme park, and Hollywood studios incorporating Chinese actors, production and funding, the mutual love affair keeps blossoming — underscored by Dalian Wanda Group’s acquisition of No. 2 domestic theatrical chain AMC Entertainment and production company Legendary Entertainment.

Last November, the MPAA and Sony Pictures opened the 6th Annual China International Co-Production Film Screenings with a showing of Xuan Zang at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles.

“We are proud to host this important event celebrating the relationship between the American and Chinese film industries,” Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, said in a statement. “As we broaden our global presence in a major way, China has become a big part of our present and future — and for the industry as a whole. We look forward to continued collaboration and success.”

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