Art Copyright Coalition Finds Rampant Counterfitting at Canton Fair and Jinhan Fair

On October 24-25, 2012, eight art publisher members of the Art Copyright Coalition met in Guangzhou, China to walk the Canton Fair and the Jinhan Fair to assess the level of copyright infringements at these shows. The group found over 30 Chinese companies with significant levels of illegal copies. Because two days was insufficient time to cover both shows, the group estimated the number of infringing companies to be much higher.

The group confronted each company found to be infringing. Infringing product included canvas wall decor, framed art, tableware, boxes, tables, pitchers, placemats, linens, screens, and other items. The nature of the infringements ranged from exact copies of entire images, to copies of components of images combined with other copied material, to slightly modified but clearly copied versions of copyrighted images. In many cases the art publishers removed infringing product from walls and shelves with the compliance of the exhibitor. For others, attempts to remove infringing items met strong resistance, and there were several cases of heated exchanges (even to the point of attracting attention from the police). The art publishers documented their findings with photos, and in some cases obtained catalogues or CD’s from the exhibitors.The art publishers met with organizers of the Jinhan Fair and asked for assistance in combating the counterfeiters. The organizers did not accept the publishers’ digital collections (iPad, tablet, or website) as evidence of copyright ownership. The art publishers argued that the organizer’s requirements for proof are so overly burdensome as to effectively condone counterfeiting. To ”prove” copyright ownership, each piece of intellectual property would require registration certificates, rights owners’ ID cards and business licenses, powers of attorneys, attorneys’ ID cards, and relevant certifying documents, authenticated by the copyright owner’s own government and the Chinese embassy in the copyright owner’s country. The art publishers did not approach the organizers of the Canton Fair due to time constraints.Art Copyright Coalition members intend to return as a group at least annually to the Canton Fair and the Jinhan Fair, and are discussing the possibility of attending additional trade shows in China. The group is making direct contact with the offending parties. For the most frequently copied artworks, individual art publishers are considering completing the full bureaucratic requirements in order to gain the leverage to remove product, and if possible to shut down counterfeit operations. The group is contacting their wall decor and licensing customers to report on the shows and to ask for their help in continuing to identify copyright infringers. Legitimate companies who pay for the rights to use the images stand to benefit by shutting down companies stealing the artwork for free.

The art publishers are part of the Art Copyright Coalition, an international organization dedicated to copyright protection. Member companies are small businesses, typically with 10 to 30 employees. Limited resources make it difficult for any single company to combat infringements on its own, so the companies combined forces with competitors to pursue this common interest. One participant in the Guangzhou trip described the undertaking as “David X 8 versus Goliath.” The delegation to Guangzhou was comprised of the following eight companies:

  • Canadian Art Prints & Winn Devon Art Group, Canada
  • Gango Editions, USA
  • Kunstanstalten May AG, Germany
  • Felix Rosenstiel´s Widow & Son Ltd., United Kingdom
  • Sun Dance Graphics, USA
  • Top Art srl, Italy
  • Wild Apple Graphics, Ltd., USA
  • World Art Group, USA
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