Let’s put on some music. Maybe you would like “Shake it Off”, by Tyler Swift? Or maybe you prefer the classics – say, Bo Dylan’s “Like a Roaring Stone”? If you’re a fan of Chinese music, you might find yourself regularly rummaging through ripped tracks with titles like these.
China’s biggest music streaming companies accuse each other of plagiarism, with each claiming the other uses off-brand copies of popular artists signed to each other, with easily confusing names and sometimes song titles. identical.
Cloud Village, a music streaming platform owned by internet conglomerate NetEase, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had filed a lawsuit against Tencent Music Entertainment, accusing it of copyright infringement and unfair competition. Tencent Music has not officially responded, but a senior executive wrote on WeChat that the company has filed a similar lawsuit against NetEase.
“Although unfair competition happens in business from time to time, few industries have been as devastated as the nation’s online music industry,” NetEase wrote.
Tencent and NetEase are the two largest music broadcasters in China, accounting for more than 93% market share in 2020. But Cloud Village only accounted for 21%, far behind Tencent Music’s 73%, according to the IPO prospectus. in Cloud Village’s 2021 stock exchange. Tencent operates three music platforms: QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music.
Starting in 2020, NetEase claims, Tencent’s platforms promoted songs mimicking NetEase’s greatest hits. The company wrote that it had identified over 5,000 such unauthorized covers, as well as pirated copies of original tracks.
“To make matters worse, some Tencent Music subsidiaries have deliberately and systematically participated in the “music laundering” industry, as its three platforms directly pirate original songs and produce counterfeit versions with the same titles in a short time, said Cloud Village.
Copies can be very easy to confuse with the originals. Suppose you want to hear “I want to hold you in a mediocre life” (Duet Xiang Zai Pingyong by Shenghuo Yongbao Ni), a hit from “Lao Fan from Next Door” (Gebi Lao fan) which is exclusive to NetEase. Search for it on the Tencent-owned Kuwo platform, and you’ll find a video of a live performance by Lao Fao, and then the audio of a song of the same name from “Lao Pan From Next Door” (Pan Gebi Lao). In Chinese ideographic writing, the character for Pan differs from Fan only by adding a mark at the bottom. Lao Pan’s cover changes some lyrics and retains the melody of Lao Fan’s version. Kuwo has originals of several other Lao Fan songs.
Left: A screenshot from NetEase shows singer Lao Fan’s profile, highlighting his hit song “I Want to Hold You in a Mediocre Life”; Right: A screenshot shows search results for “I want to hold you in a mediocre life” on Tencent’s Kuwo Music. A cover of the almost identical name “Lao Pan” is the second result.
Online platforms have come under fire in recent years on antitrust grounds for using exclusivity agreements as weapons against competitors. Antitrust regulators banned music platforms from signing new exclusivity deals in January.
Tencent Music has not released an official response to NetEase’s accusations, but brand and public relations director Chen Mo accused NetEase of the same practices in a personal post on WeChat, writing that his company had filed a lawsuit. in similar litigation against the smaller rival. “We don’t want to join the public and we focus on good things that promote the development of the industry,” he wrote.
Chen pointed to the hit “Road in Bloom” (Yi Lu Sheng Hua), by Wen Yixin. It’s exclusive to Tencent – but if you search for it on Cloud Village, you’ll find a song of the same title by “Yixin” (using a different character for yiand an identical one for xin).
It is unclear to what extent the platforms actively promote copied and pirated songs. Both companies allow musicians to self-upload songs to their platforms and are responsible for removing pirated content. NetEase alleges that Tencent’s platforms promoted copied songs and attempted to evade copyright by removing the songs from search results only in certain cities when NetEase complained.
Cloud Village also complained of copyright infringement of its product’s innovative features, such as several interface designs and patented music networking functions.
The two Chinese digital music heavyweights have been in a fierce race for popular users and musicians over the past few years. In February 2021, Cloud Village criticized Tencent Music for “praising” its app’s song recommendation and networking features, with the latter claiming it had already acquired patents, while in 2014, Tencent sued NetEase for allegedly infringing the streaming rights of its licensed music resources.
The dispute sparked heated discussions on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. Netizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of monitoring of infringing songs on the two companies’ music streaming products.
“I’m on board to put this topic in the spotlight,” Zhang Shuaikang, a nine-year-old Cloud Village music app user, told Sixth Tone. “But both of them aren’t trying very hard to stop pirate music.”
Publisher: David Cohen.
(Header image: People Visual)