CCTV “Big Head Son” Copyright Dispute Case

September 13, 2017

Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court (2015) No. 356 Civil Verdict on the appeal of copyright infringement dispute between Hangzhou Big Head Son Cultural Development Co., Ltd. and CCTV Animation Co., Ltd.


Case Summary

In 1994,  Shiyu Cui, director of cartoon "big head son and little head father" (1995 edition, hereinafter referred to as “the 95 version”), and others visited Zedai Liu’s home inviting him to create character images for the upcoming 95 version of the cartoon series. Immediately on the spot, Zedai Liu outlined the front view portraits of three characters "big head son", "little head father" and "apron mother" with a pencil, and gave the draft to Shiyu Cui, without concluding a written agreement on the copyright of the works.

After Shiyu Cui brought back the draft, the creation team for the 95 version made further design and re-creation based on Zedai Liu’s draft. Althoguh Zedai Liu no longer participated in the creation since, he was listed as the character designer when the 95 version was co-produced by the CCTV and Oriental TV and broadcasted in 1995.

December 14, 2012, Zedai Liu transferred the copyright of his art work images of "big head son", "little head father" and "apron mother" to Liang Hong, who further transferred the copyright to Hangzhou Big Head Son Culture Development Co., Ltd. (hereinafter as “Big Head Son Company”). When CCTV Animation Co., Ltd. (hereinafter as “CCTV Animation”) produced the cartoon named "New big head son and small head father" (hereinafter as “the 2013 version”) and broadcasted on CCTV, local TV stations, and CCTV online, Big Head Son company sued CCTV Animation for infringing on their copyright by readapting the above-mentioned art work images to new characters without the copyright owner’s permission and corresponding payment, and asked the court to order CCTV Animation stop infringement, announce apology on newspaper, eliminate the impact, and compensate for its economic losses and reasonable costs.

Hangzhou Binjiang District Court found that, Zedai Liu as the commissioned party shall enjoy the integral copyright of the three art works he created; Big Head Son company has acquired the copyright of the above-mentioned art works, except for the personal right thereto, through transfer; without the right owner’s permission, CCTV Animation used the related works through adaption in the 2013 version of cartoon and the related exhibitions and propagandas to earn profit, which has infringed upon the Big Head Son company’s copyright, and shall bear the corresponding liability. In view of the actual situation of the case, the court held that an increased amount of indemnity shall be rendered to replace an injunction. Accordingly, CCTV Animation was ordered to pay 400,000 yuan for each character imgage. The first instance verdict was later maintained by Hangzhou Intermediate People 's Court, and Zhejiang Higher People's Court also rejected CCTV Animation’s request for retrial.


Typical Significance

This case involves the ownership of cartoon character image copyright and disputes arisen in subsequential use. In this case, due to the lack of clear understanding by all parties, including the investing studio, the television stations, as well as the creation staff, on their rights and obligations and a clear agreement, after many years, the court had to apply the rules of law to determine the ownership of rights reasonable and legally. Meanwhile, under the premise of affirmed infringement, the court increased the amount of idemnity to replace an injunction order, taking into account the background of creation and the actual situation, balancing the protection of copyright owners and the public policy to encourage the creation and broadcast of works. How this case was handled has provided certain guiding significance to the similar cases.