China’s Web Fiction Writers Strike Over Copyright Confusion

Fearing new leadership in their publishing group could lead to reduced rights and incomes, thousands of online authors protested by not updating their serialized novels.

After what has been called the most tumultuous week in the history of China’s internet literature industry, writers under the country’s largest online publishing group banded together Tuesday to protest potential changes to their contracts.

With one-quarter of the domestic market share, China Literature is the dominant player in the country’s online fiction industry. The Tencent-backed group owns several popular reading apps that are fed by an army of over 8 million “internet writers” — contracted authors of serialized web novels. In recent years, dozens of China Literature franchises like “The King’s Avatar” and “Ghost Blows Out the Light” have been successfully spun off as TV dramas, anime, video games, and movies.

The controversy began after a major management reshuffle at China Literature on April 27, when the group’s founding members collectively resigned and were replaced by Tencent executives. In the aftermath, rumors circulated that the old guard had resisted the group’s apps transitioning to free-to-read formats, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper.

Tensions were exacerbated when an allegedly new contract with more stringent terms and conditions was widely shared among the group’s authors. According to screenshots of the document posted to social media, China Literature would own all rights to a writer’s works until 50 years after their death. The group would also be authorized to “transfer” the work of one writer to another, sell the rights to any work, or distribute it for free.

Other terms suggested that China Literature would have some authority over writers’ social media accounts, and that writers would have to cover their own legal fees in the event of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

The authors lamented that these changes would effectively turn them into ghostwriters for China Literature, enjoying none of the rights or privileges of regular employees. Continue to read the full article here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.