IP and Law

Chicken parody case goes to court

In 2005, the funny flash song "I don't want to say I'm a chicken" (我不想说我是鸡) appeared online. It's the lament of a chicken who's perfectly happy to be a source of eggs and meat, but who is now facing extermination because of the threat of avian flu:

The tune is lifted in its entirety from the song "I don't want to speak" (我不想说), written by Li Haiying (see below). Li sued wireless content provider KongZhong, which produced and distributed the song as downloadable stream and a ringtone.

The song, as with prior Flash hits like "Us Northeasterners are living Lei Feng's" (东北人都是活雷锋), made it to KTV joints, though KongZhong denies having a hand in that. As a result, Li feels that he is owed an apology, 2 million yuan in compensation, court costs, and 50,000 for pain and suffering. From the Mirror:

[KongZhong said] that when its "K Ring Studio" used the melody of "I don't want to speak" when producing "I don't want to say I'm a chicken," it did not obtain permission, but this action was not malicious; it was done for public interest aims, not out of a malicious profit motive. Afterward they discovered that it was inappropriate and immediately halted downloads of the music cartoon. In the courtroom, the counselor said that the company was willing to to accept responsibility for infringement within the bounds of the law....at the same time, he felt that Li Haiying's request for 2 million yuan exceeds the bounds of the law and is therefore unacceptable.

According to Chinese law, fair use covers critical reactions to the original work, while the chicken song only riffs briefly on the content of the original. Whether or not it's a PSA, it certainly is funny - the China Court website reports that many of the several dozen observers in the gallery were amused when the song was played in court. Neither report mentioned when the case is expected to conclude.

Here's the original song, as sung by Yang Yuying.

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There are currently 8 Comments for Chicken parody case goes to court.

Comments on Chicken parody case goes to court

Oh the chicken is so cute! Danwei always has the funniest report from China.

Sorry xiaomin, but I ate your "cute" Chicken..

Bah, kill all chickens...

So what is the law exactly? If I am making a satire or a criticism, then its fine to copy a whole song (though only some of the lyrics)?

Either way, painfully cute chicken.

This is a good discussion of the legal status of parodies in light of the Steamed Bun case. The panelists conclude that a parody must satirize the work that it copies in order to be fair use - if the target of the satire is something else, then it infringes (So Hu Ge's other spoof about the Spring Festival rush loses out). Don't know if any court decisions have supported this analysis, and there's room for broad interpretation of what it means to satirize the original, but it looks like the chicken here is out of luck.

damn, that is a funny chicken. is it me or is the spoof funnier, and better produced than the original?

however: "the chicken song only riffs briefly on the content of the original" --
the song certainly seems to have been copied in its entirety, albeit elaborated upon. certainly in the US, for such a case, you would have to get permission from the author and publishers of the original work, even if using it for a 'PSA'. don't know how chinese law reads on this, but as the basic copyright law is modelled on the US one, i would look for similar legal reasoning...

if K Ring made money on the downloads of the video and ringtones then Li could be entitled to a cut of those proceeds. thus the 2M rmb figure, i would guess...

i would be surprised if K Ring did not make money on it -- as i recall, even the act of downloading a free ringtone to a phone incurs a charge to the phone user, and a revenue split usually between the mobile operator and the content provider.

the little chicken voice sounds like the same one as used in another very popular song and ringtone, and the whole thing, while very cute and childlike, looks and sounds professionally made to me...

so: Li's legal counsel should argue that K Ring intended to make money on the spoof, in addition to spreading awareness of Chinese singing chickens with pokemon eyes (which is indeed a great public service) -- and by doing so willfully exploited Li's copyright. If it can be shown that K Ring did in fact plan on commercial gain, Li will have a stronger case that K Ring did not responsibly act to properly clear the rights. Failure to do so in the US can result in stiffer penalties in a decision against the defendant.

Li should also have the right to enjoin K Ring on any further dissemination of the video or ringtone -- although given the 2005-specific nature of the piece, that point may be moot. (although we did just watch it on Danwei, didn't we?)

ada: I suppose that ought to be "briefly riffs on the lyrics of the original" - I think it'd be a clearer case of parody if the lyrics made fun of the bland, derivative pop sensibilities of Yang Yuying's rendition (or if they used something other than a KTV track in order to comment on the music), but they've basically taken the original backing track and added new lyrics slightly inspired by Li's.

Part of KongZhong's defense is that they only made money from the ringtone downloads; streaming brings in no revenue, they say (who knows whether that's true). And in any event it's out of their hands, now - I chose this version after watching close to a dozen on Tudou (blurred subtitles) and a couple of standalone flash movies.

i am still chuckling over the selfserious chickens. thanks for digging up this piece...

as you pointed out earlier, it would be a clear case of parody if in fact the purpose of the spoof was to critically comment or satirize the original (as in the Bun egao case) -- but instead, it appears to have plagiarized the original, borrowing from its popularity to spread a message that has nothing to do with the original work. also, if I were Li, i would argue that the work did have some commercial intent, which additionally goes against fair use. i think K Ring is arguing the PSA angle to try to mitigate their culpability, but they aren't arguing whether infringement occured. i am not sure what the legal logic of their position is. "our legal burden is less because we meant well."

as far as the right of the plaintiff to enjoin the work, according to China Court Online the defendant had this to say:

"...希望能通过协商得到李海鹰的同意将此作品保留下来,让人们在以后的日子里也能看到这个作品。”

so it is actually their express hope that Li Haiying will support the work, and give permission for the work to exist in the public sphere. even if K Ring is not making money off the flash video now, either streaming or via karaoke royalties payments, it certainly could eventually. so i think it's smart of Li Haiying to either settle for a one-off payment and a cut of the proceeds in perpetuity, or to enjoin them -- and deny us all the pleasure of legally enjoying the singing chickens.

thank you joel. great work, as always.

刚开始只以为这是以前那电视剧《外来妹》的主题歌。
但是细听这歌词是改过的。
这改得好呀。生动。真实。
完全把这社会种种形表现出来。
真是太棒了。

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