The Voice of China VS China Super Vocal: Opinion
date: 2017-12-22

    According the decision of the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, “The Voice of China” that we have been familiar with for four years has to be renamed “China Super Vocal”.

    In this case, Zhejiang Tangde Film Co., Ltd (hereafter referred to as Tangde Co.), which possessed the rights to seasons 5 through 8 of “The Voice of China” Shanghai Star Culture Communication Co., Ltd (hereafter referred to as Star Media) must cease using the name “The Voice of China” when broadcasting the program, including using the trademarks, copyright, and unique names related to the well-known program, making a case that this infringement constitutes unfair competition.

    The decision of the Beijing Intellectual Property Court is a complex one, as this is a major case. Since the details of the case are too complicated to enumerate here, only the opinion will be discussed.

    TV shows have their unique names, content, and format. However, the name of a TV program does not fall under the scope of the “Copyright Law”. Like names of novels and songs, it cannot be copyrighted. It is obvious that if I write a novel entitled “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer”, it does not preclude you from using those three words in other content. However, the format and content of a TV program does fall under the scope of the “Copyright Law”. But what constitutes a format of a TV program, and what is the difference and connection between the format and the content?

    To better demonstrate this difference, let’s look at an example. If a TV program is like a dish, then the recipe for the dish is the format of the TV program, and the name of the dish is the name of the TV program. Perhaps this comparison is not appropriate, but I think it demonstrates the nuance well.

    So, did Shanghai Star Co infringe on the rights of Tangde Co? To answer that question, we must look at what exactly Tangde Co purchased from Dutch Talpa Media Company (hereafter referred to as Talpa Media).

    Talpa Media developed a program titled “The Voice of Holland” and owns the rights to the series. What contract did Talpa Media and Tangde Co sign, was it a contract related to the format or to the content? I think it was neither. Once the program has been broadcast, its content becomes unique, even if re-recorded with the same guests, etc; it remains unique unless Tangde Co has broadcast a program previously recorded by Talpa Media, which obviously was not the case. To go back to our dish comparison, once the recipe of a dish is well-known, why spend money on buying it? So, in my opinion, Tangde Co did not buy the TV program itself, not its format, but the help and guidance on organizing this program. In terms of our cooking comparison – Talpa Media has come up with a recipe for a new dish and made it public; it taught Tangde how to make the dish in return for monetary compensation, which Tangde then had the rights to sell in China.

    So the question on whether Shanghai Star Co infringed on the rights of Tangde Co is obvious. Shanghai Star Co did not broadcast Talpa Media’s program, and it did not improperly use the TV program. They simply modeled their own TV program after the format bought from Talpa Media, how can that be regarded as infringement? Shanghai Star Co simply cooked their dish according to the well-known Talpa Media recipe, how can Talpa Media say that their rights have been infringed upon?

    Therefore, although Beijing Intellectual Property Court had ordered “The Voice of China” to be temporarily renamed “China Super Vocal”, I think Shanghai Star Co did not infringe on any of Tangde Co’s rights.