T-4: The Middle of an Ongoing Story - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

March 12, 2021

T-4: The Middle of an Ongoing Story

About 6 weeks after it was posted my original video of me rather snarkily pointing out some ridiculously simple errors carved into a giant decorative boulder in southern China is currently at just under three million views.

There were three follow-up videos made by media organizations (who I shall refer to as "1", "2", and "5" for reasons that have nothing at all to do with Monty Python or the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch) using my footage, and three follow-up videos made by media organizations ("1", "3" and "4") not using my footage.

Media Organization #1 didn't exactly ask me for permission but their usage was very much reasonable as a news organization in the city where the video came from reporting on the news. They not only explicitly tagged me in their post of my video, they also interviewed my employee who lives in Sanya, and made two follow up posts to their TikTok including one which was a short segment broadcast on their TV program and which absolutely eviscerates the government department which made the decorative errors in question both for making such simple errors in the first place and for not doing anything about it until a foreigner's video went viral.

Media Organization #2 neither asked for permission nor tagged me but they got fuck all views (under 300 likes) and, although this annoyed me, Two's parent company gives me far too much paying work for me to do anything other than privately gripe about this to people at Two's parent company. Also, since Two is in the city where the video took place, it's not actually that unreasonable for them to be reporting on the government response to my video.

One and Three both went super viral with their videos making the list of "Top Twenty Trending Videos" in all of China.

Media Organization #5 is where the problem is though. Five is not in the city where I took the video. Five is in a city near the border of Russia. As in you'd be hard pressed to get farther away from the city where I took the video and still be inside China.

Without contacting me or One, Five took my video and One's second video, cut off our watermarks, removed my company name, slapped their exceptionally egregious watermarks on it (including OVER MY FACE), and posted it as their own content; I found out about this roughly three hours later when someone in the comment's section tagged me.

When confronted, Five explained (in writing) that their "policy is to remove watermarks from videos that they use" and that they'd gotten my video "from the internet". Five also offered to delete my video if I had a problem with them using it.

- I don't want you to delete it. I want you to pay me a usage fee.
- Okay, how much?
- Well, because the video had 40,000 likes by the time I found out about it, I think 20,000 yuan would be reasonable.

And then, because they thought they were being sarcastic (when in reality, they were entering into a now written agreement to pay me 20,000 yuan - $3,084) they decided to ignore my follow up comments asking for the contact information of their TV station's finance department.

Even if their behavior was beyond the pale, with the number of followers I have, $3,084 is quite an excessively large number to be asking. And, as it turns out, my lawyer thought that the method that I used for determining this number wasn't particularly rigorous.

But, Chinese TikTok sells a service called DOU+ where you can pay 100 yuan ($15.42) for a guaranteed 5,000 views. So, using the average number of views my original video had for every like that I'd gotten and the number of likes their video had, we came up with a much more rigorous and accountable number.

113,960 yuan. ($17,576)

And, we sent them a demand letter. Just company to company, not the officially endorsed by a lawyer type.... to which they responded:

"When the original content creator contacted us, we already offered to delete the video but she wanted to be paid. That's not happening. Fuck you, if you have a problem, you can sue us."

So, the process began with a visit to a Chinese notary office for verification of digital evidence (CNY 1,500) and my hiring a lawyer to write an Official Demand Letter (CNY 4,000). They ignored the first Official Letter (in fairness to them, it did come just before the holidays) but, decided that they might shove their feet a bit farther down their own throat when the second Official Letter came.

They told my lawyer that they thought that "since I had responded to their offer to delete my video with a demand for money" that I didn't care about them keeping my video online; they weren't going to apologize publicly or privately; and, they certainly had no intention of paying me money for using a video they found on the internet!

Then, since my lawyer gave them a perfectly reasonable out where they could hire my company for future collaborations in lieu of compensation, they wasted our time for a few days before 'generously' offering to share another one of my videos only, this time, with my name still on it.

While all this was going on, we were discovering that not only are they mostly in the habit of asking other people (at least the content creators we were able to track down anyways) if they can use their videos before they post them, they've previously lost a case for digital copyright infringement! 

Since this involves the internet, my lawyer still needs to confirm which circuit is the right one to file in (my district court, Hainan's newly formed intellectual property court, in their district court) but "foreigner sues Chinese TV station" should be going public roughly 3-4 days after I hit the road.

And isn't that going to be interesting....

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