“Peter Rabbit” Raises His Voice at Court in Beijing

June 19, 2003
“Peter Rabbit” Raises His Voice at Court in Beijing
Tue 19 Jun 2003

BEIJING - “Peter Rabbit”, a well-known character in English-speaking countries, is now raising his voice at court in Beijing.

A resource from Beijing No.1 Intermediate Court revealed that the intermediate court accepted the first case domestically to confirm there is no violation to trademark rights, i.e. the dispute on trademark between China Social Sciences Press and Britain Fredrick Warne & Co. Limited. The plaintiff, China Social Sciences Press, is demanding to confirm that the series of books the plaintiff has published do not violate the copyright of the defendant, Fredrick Warne & Co. Limited.

Beatrix Potter (deceased, 1943) is a famous American children’s book author. Potter spent a lifetime creating lovely, lifelike animal figures that came to be widely known and adored, such as the naughty and coward “Peter Rabbit” or the boldfaced “Benjamin Rabbit.”

The plaintiff claims in its bill of indictment that the author Beatrix Potter created 19 fairy tales to Peter Rabbit Series from 1902 to 1913. Now, nearly 90 years later, the production has entered the public area in China. According to the related regulation of Chinese Copyright Law, the reproduction of Potter’s stories is occurring beyond the span of copyright protection granted by Chinese law, 50 years after the death of the author. Ms. RunFang Zhang has translated the Potter stories into Chinese, thus she now holds the copyright on the writings. The plaintiff signed the publishing contract with Ms. RenFang Zhang in March 2003. Therefore, the plaintiff obtained the legal publication rights by law.

In May 2003 after the publication of the book, the defendant sent letters to the distributors of plaintiff and complained to the Administration for Industry & Commerce. The defendant proposed that they still had registered trademarks for the “Peter Rabbit Series” and all the insets of “Peter Rabbit Series.” They argued that the plaintiff had used the insets of “Peter Rabbit Series” and “Peter Rabbit” in the four books published by them, which was an infringement on the defendant’s registered trademark. Therefore the plaintiff was forced to stop selling them.

The plaintiff argued that the book had already entered public area and they legally obtained the rights to publish it. The use of the insets of Peter Rabbit was a direct use of the original work, and served as a well-meaning description for the stories in the book series. Therefore, the plaintiff was not using the defendant’s trademark. The use of the insets was not confusing the customer of the origin of the products or perceiving the products to be the defendant’s.

The obvious nature of the case is that the plaintiff desires to confirm that there is no violation of trademark rights on their part. This case differs from most common trademark infringement cases previously viewed in China, and has been the first case of its kind in the Chinese legal system. Furthermore, it is intensified by the fact that it involves a defendant that is not a Chinese citizen.

The head of National Administration of Intellectual Property pointed out, among all the patent applications, domestic applications increased by 30%. Of those domestic applications, the agriculture industry increased quite rapidly relative to the other domestic industries.