Last November, Tudou Holdings Ltd. filed its F-1 registration statement, in preparation for its initial public offering of American depositary shares. Here are the contracts from its filings.
For a online video sharing business located in China, the first word that comes to mind is copyright. So, what the the F-1 say about the potential problems with copyright laws? I’ve highlighted the noteworthy portions.
We have been and expect we will continue to be exposed to intellectual property infringement and other claims, including claims based on content posted on our website, which could be time-consuming and costly to defend and may result in substantial damage awards and/or court orders that may prevent us from continuing to provide certain of our existing services.
Our success depends, in large part, on our ability to operate our business without infringing third-party rights, including third party intellectual property rights. Companies in the Internet, technology and media industries own, and are seeking to obtain, a large number of patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets, and they are frequently involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement or other violations of intellectual property rights or other related legal rights. There may be patents issued or pending that are held by others that cover significant aspects of our technologies, products, business methods or services. Our platform is open to Internet users for uploading video clips. As a result, content posted by our users may expose us to allegations by third parties of infringement of intellectual property rights, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation and other violations of third-party rights. Pursuant to our user agreement, users agree not to use our services in a way that is illegal, obscene or may otherwise violate generally accepted codes of ethics. Our user agreement also requires that users have the right to, or the license of, the content they upload to our website and users agree to be solely liable for all legal liabilities with respect to such content. Although we have set up certain procedures to enable copyright owners to provide us with notice of alleged infringement, given the volume of content uploaded it is not possible, and we do not attempt to identify and remove all potentially infringing content uploaded by our users.
Third parties may take action and file claims against us if they believe that certain content on our site violates their copyrights or other related legal rights. We have been subject to such claims in the PRC. From the inception of our business to November 4, 2010, we have been subject to 280 copyright infringement cases in the PRC, 221 of which had been concluded and the remaining 59 cases are currently ongoing. Among the concluded cases, we have lost 91 cases, won 13 cases, settled 61 cases and 56 cases have been withdrawn by plaintiffs. The damage awards among the 91 lost cases range from RMB3,000 to RMB50,000 per infringement found, with more popular content typically giving rise to higher monetary damage awards. Although we have set up screening processes to try to filter out popular movie titles currently featured in Chinese cinema, we do not attempt to filter out all potentially infringing content uploaded by our users and, therefore, anticipate that copyright infringement claims against us in the PRC will continue to arise. Moreover, since 2005, relevant PRC government authorities have jointly launched annual campaigns specifically aimed to crack down on Internet copyright infringement and piracy, which normally last for three to four months every year. In the past, several websites engaging in serious copyright infringement and piracy were shut down by relevant government authorities during such campaigns. Given the large volume of content uploaded by our users, we do not have the ability to identify and remove all potentially infringing content in our website, and we cannot assure you that we will not receive any penalties in such campaigns. In serious cases, the operating permits of the websites engaging illegal activities may be revoked.
Furthermore, through cooperation with Tencent, we have established a substation at soso.tudou.com to allow the list of search results from Tencent’s search engine, including links to videos on third parties’ websites, to be presented on our own website. Some content found using such search engine facilities may be protected by copyright or other intellectual property rights. In China, uncertainties still exist with respect to the legal standards as well as the judicial interpretation of such standards for determining liabilities for our providing links to content on third-party websites that infringe others’ copyrights.
Additionally, although we have not previously been subject to legal actions for copyright infringement in jurisdictions other than the PRC, it is possible that we may be subject to such claims in the future. Such other jurisdictions may impose different protections for copyrights, and the claims may result in potentially larger damages awards than have been imposed in the PRC. For example, although our operations are in the PRC and our site is targeted at audiences in Asia, our site includes some English-language content and is accessible by users in the U.S. and elsewhere. There is a risk that a U.S. court may determine that it has jurisdiction over us for claims for U.S. copyrights. Although U.S. copyright laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 512), or the DMCA, provide safeguards from claims for monetary relief for copyright infringement for certain entities that host user-uploaded content and that comply with specified statutory requirements, and although we have recently taken additional steps in an effort to comply with the DMCA “safe habor” requirements, it is possible that a U.S. court would conclude that it has jurisdiction and that we are not eligible for the safeguards provided by the DMCA for infringement claims occurring prior to the implementation of those changes. Additionally, for claims of infringement arising after our additional efforts to comply with the DMCA safeguards, it is nonetheless possible that a U.S. court could conclude that we have not complied with all such statutory requirements to qualify for safe harbor status. Under such circumstances, it is possible that we could be subject to claims of copyright infringement in the U.S.
In addition, although our license agreements with licensors of premium licensed content require that the licensors have the legal right to license to us such content, we cannot ensure each licensor has such authorization. If any purported licensor does not actually have sufficient authorization relating to the premium licensed content or right to license a work of authorship provided to us, we may be subject to claims of copyright infringement from third parties, and we cannot ensure we can be fully indemnified by the relevant licensor for all losses we may incur from such claims.
Any such claims in the PRC, U.S., or elsewhere, regardless of their merit, could be time-consuming and costly to defend, and may result in litigation and divert management’s attention and resources. Furthermore, an adverse determination in any such litigation or proceedings to which we may become a party in the PRC, U.S. or elsewhere could cause us to pay substantial damages. For example, statutory damage awards in the U.S. can range from US$750 to US$30,000 per infringement, and if the infringement is found to be intentional, can be as high as US$150,000 per infringement. Additionally, the risk of an adverse determination in such litigation or an actual adverse determination may result in harm to our reputation or in adverse publicity. The risk of an adverse result or the actual adverse result in litigation may also require us to seek licenses from third parties, pay ongoing royalties or become subject to injunctions requiring us to remove content or take other steps to prevent infringement, each of which could prevent us from pursuing some or all of our business and result in our users and advertising customers or potential users and advertising customers deferring or limiting their use of our services, which could materially adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Maintaining copyright protection controls may be costly and our business may be placed at a competitive disadvantage.
Due to the low cost of piracy in China, some online video sites provide links to and host content on their websites which may infringe the copyright rights or other rights of third parties. We have developed a digital identification system, which codes video clips based on audio and video components and can identify video clips with codes similar to those in our own in-house “black list” of content. After receiving notice from copyright owners and licensees, we will update our black list by adding notified copyrighted content, and remove any UGC matching the listed items. Our copyright policies and user agreement prohibits users from illegally uploading copyright-protected content to our website. In addition, we need to allocate a significant portion of our working capital to purchase licenses for content. However, none of the foregoing procedures can eliminate the potential risk of infringing or illegal material from being posted on our website. Our revenues from online advertising services may not be sufficient to offset the cost of acquiring legally licensed content. On the other hand, our competitors may be able to derive revenues from illegal content which requires little or no capital expenditures. Our business may be placed at a competitive disadvantage compared with our competitors that incur lower operating expenses by offering and not monitoring their websites for illegal content.
I think my favorite line is “due to the low cost of piracy in China.” A bit of an understatement especially if you consider the history of Capitol v. Thomas.