Sina.com yesterday won a landmark court case in China against competitor Sohu.com for Sohu's copyright infringement and improper competitive practices. As a result, Sohu will pay Sina 210,000 CNY (about US$25000) and was told to make an apology notice on Sohu's main website page. This lawsuit has dragged on for two years, during which time both website companies have brought other cases to court against each other.
The intricacies of the various cases and accusations over the last two years are described below.
Sina first asked Sohu to stop copying its mobile-based MMS pictures in Oct 2001. On Oct 31, 2001, in the No 2 Beijing Court, Sina notified Sohu of impending court proceedings and warned Sohu again to stop pirating its materials. But Sohu did not give any response.
On Jan 24, 2002, Sina sued Sohu and asked for 300,000 CNY as compensation. Meanwhile Sina claimed that Sohu had also pirated content from Sina's sports, finance and mobile website channels.
Sohu replied immediately this time. Sohu claimed that this defamed its brand in the industry. Sohu claimed it never copied content from Sina. Instead, Sohu said its pictures for mobile applications and services were partly designed by its production stuff and part of them were done by their own users and uploaded to the site.
Sohu and Sina then brought their case to the world and both publicly aired their grievances. After the case began, many web users began to talk about copyrights and it started a public discussion about piracy in the Internet industry.
Wang Yan, Sina's president said they did not want to sue just for the lawsuit. As Sohu did this for a long time and never realized it was a problem, he said web content must be copyrighted and must be taken seriously, otherwise Internet content will be worthless.
Meanwhile, Sohu's CEO Zhang Chaoyang did not agree. He stunned China's netizens when he said there was no clear definition for web content in respect to the mobile applications' pictures.
On Jan 29, 2002, Sina issued a new copyright piracy notice to Sohu and denounced Zhang Chaoyang's words.
On Jan 31, 2002, Sohu sued Sina for the same reasons–piracy and poor competition.
Sina's lawyers gave the first discussion before the court and said Sohu purposely pirated Sina's content. But then on March 18, 2002, Sohu changed it's reason for suing Sina only to include improper competitive practices–they deleted the piracy aspect of the lawsuit.
Sohu and Sina kept up the fight for nearly a year–trading barbs any chance they could get. Sohu denied totally any piracy and insisted that they made their own art for the mobile pictures. But Sina said Sohu perjured itself and violated the law. On Dec 2, 2002, the court ordered Sohu to pay Sina 210,000 CNY.
On Dec 12, 2002, both companies appealed. Sohu appealed because they lost the case and Sina appealed because the court did not mention in their verdict the 170 pictures that Sohu had copied.
Then the appeals process began.
In June 2003, the Senior Court thought that the evidence was not clear and they returned the case and let the No 2 Court re-judge it.
In Dec 2003, the Beijing No 2 Court judged that Sohu should pay Sina 210,000 CNY and ordered Sohu to make an apology on its website. Sohu appealed immediately, but it was refused.