BEIJING, April 6 (Xinhua) -- A handful of Internet writers made a killing last year as screen adaptations of online novels such as "Nirvana in Fire" and "The Ghouls" scored phenomenal audience ratings and box office sales.
The online novelist "Tangjiasanshao" made 110 million yuan (17 million U.S. dollars) in copyright royalties last year, the highest earner in the industry for three consecutive years. However, most of his peers are barely making ends meet.
Online writers missed out on 10 billion yuan in lost royalties in 2014 due to rampant piracy, according to a white paper released last month by iResearch, a domestic consulting firm.
Only 26.5 percent of web users regularly read legal copies of books. More than half read pirated texts online or downloaded free copies from web forums, network disks or cloud services, the paper said.
"Only 5 percent of online novelists can support themselves fully through writing," online writer "Shefayouya" told Xinhua.
"Most of my peers write thousands of words every day on legitimate literary sites in order to earn subscription fees, but the content soon gets leaked to forums and network disks, making our efforts utterly worthless," he said.
"Shefayouya" said the largest channels for infringement are Internet bulletin boards and forums, where some users post copyright-protected content in serial or even resell the content at low prices.
EASY INFRINGEMENT, HARD PROTECTION
China has strengthened its efforts to crack down on piracy in recent years, culminating in the closure of hundreds of illegal content-sharing websites. However, Internet users still manage to find ways to download content without payment or punishment.
On Chinese social networking sites such as Baidu Tieba, users post messages containing torrent sharing files, most of which are stored in cloud services or online file-hosting services.
In 2012, Beijing Haidian District court heard a case brought by writer Han Han against search engine Baidu, with the author suing the website for copyright infringement of his work.
Han accused Baidu of "stealing" his work by publishing it online and offering his writing as free downloads as part of the site's Wenku literary database.
His lawyer said Baidu Wenku provided a channel for disseminating pirated works, resulting in copyright violations.
Baidu's lawyer said the Wenku literary database is simply a place for Internet users to store data, distancing the site from responsibility for copyright protection.
The court awarded Han 80,000 yuan in compensation, but didn't rule in favor of his other demands, including removal of Baidu's cloud storage data.
Such a minor penalty won't do much to a corporation worth tens of billions of U.S. dollars, but an individual writer definitely cannot afford the prolonged legal tussle, said Tang Yili, a judge with the special IPR court in south China's Shenzhen City.
The low cost of breaking the law stands in sharp contrast to the excessive costs and time needed to protect copyright, with the ceiling for fines only 500,000 yuan, said Zhang Hongbo, secretary-general of China Written Works Copyright Society.
"The prevalence of online piracy in China turns customers away from legitimate content and adversely affects the nation's creative sector," said Nie Zhenning, a national political advisor. It can also undermine China's reputation as a society that respects intellectual property, he said.
China's copyright regulator should strengthen its crackdown against infringement, encourage service providers to form an industry coalition to assess users' credit, and put offenders on a blacklist. Service providers with repeated offenses should have their licenses suspended or terminated, said Nie.
Service providers should also explore new commercial models that meet the needs of users without compromising copyright law. Nie suggested they notify copyright holders about how to lodge complaints and commit to handling complaints in a timely manner.