We all know China is a rapidly growing force in the global market and it is almost impossible to find a product China doesn’t produce. What China does very well is make impeccably accurate copies of desirable goods but for a fraction of the price. What consumer isn’t attracted to a quality image for a lot less than the real deal? The answer is not many and China knows this which is why markets the world over are flooded with Chinese goods. That and the fact the labour market in China enables these goods to be made very cheaply. The fact is these goods are still quality which is why they are allowed to be sold in these markets and quite frankly, in a lot of cases, it is cheaper to import these goods from China than produce them in the countries in which they are sold.
So what goods are copied? The easier question to answer would be what goods aren’t copied because there aren’t many! From cars to guitars, China will copy and produce anything. Take the Gibson Les Paul guitar for example, there are a number of Chinese copies available and these copies are good. They don’t use the best quality wood or components but they perform well and look the part for a fraction of the price of the genuine and original article. They are good and there is no denying it! There is also the Geely GE (I can hear you asking ‘what on earth is a Geely GE?’). Basically, it is a Rolls Royce Phantom for £30,000. You get everything, the iconic flying lady on the front, the brand-defining radiator grill and the imposing look but for the rather insignificant price of £30,000 (insignificant compared the price of a real Rolls Royce)!
However, China hasn’t stopped there; it has upped the ante by copying buildings, skylines and even entire villages! The idyllic looking Austrian town of Hallstatt has been cloned and placed in the Guangdong Province of China. The New York City skyline curiously appears in Tianjin, China and the Chappelle de Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France appears in Zhengzhou, China.
So is there any legal protection for these buildings? The natural place to look would be copyright protection as some of these buildings would undoubtedly be classed as a work of art by many but are they a work of art for the purposes of legal protection? Under English law a building has two-fold protection as a work of architecture under s4 Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 (artistic works) and through the plans drawn up for the building. Therefore a legal challenge through the English courts could be successful but establishing the jurisdiction of the English courts may be a more difficult task as the actual infringement has occurred in China. It is certainly arguable if the copied building or the architect was English that the action could proceed before the English courts. It is unlikely that any action before the Chinese courts would succeed as there is a clear reluctance to enforce intellectual property rights within China. There are also no laws protecting architecture as it is not viewed as completely artistic due to the fact that a building has practical functionality and is not solely artistic in nature.
It may well be that this challenge is taken up by British architect, Zaha Hadid who’s Beijing project is being reproduced in Chongqing, China. It has been reported that Zaha Hadid is seeking the construction of the copy to be halted, plans changed, compensation paid and an apology provided. Whether Zaha Hadid will succeed is anyone’s guess but it could throw up some interesting arguments and legal challenges, particularly the jurisdiction issue and a challenge to the arguably inadequate intellectual property protection in China. It is certainly something to keep an eye on!
All information is correct on the date of posting.