Author's widow claims court victory

Updated: 2013-06-05 01:47

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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The widow of the well-known Chinese author Qian Zhongshu registered a "temporary victory" on Monday in her fight to prevent Qian's private letters from being sold at auction.

Sungari International Auction in Beijing intends to put letters written by Qian under the hammer on June 21 as part of its spring collection.

However, the writer's 102-year-old widow, Yang Jiang, opposes the sale, saying the letters reveal extensive details about her husband's life and literary views. She has attempted to stop the auction by launching legal action, accusing Sungari of copyright infringement.

Under China's copyright laws, letters can be classified as works, and while Yang does not own the letters - they belong to Li Guoqiang, a long-time friend of the author in Hong Kong - she has the publishing rights for Qian's collected works.

Yang claimed an early win on Monday when Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court issued a ban order to protect Qian's copyright. The order means the auction house cannot display the letters or reveal any of the information contained within their pages ahead of the sale.

As part of the conditions, the widow's attorney, Wang Xiaohui, must also file an injunction against Sungari within 15 days.

"It's a temporary victory," said Wang of Dacheng Law Firm. "Letters, as a channel for people to communicate thoughts and emotions, should be protected in line with copyright laws, and the copyright should also belong to the writer.

"The company (Sungari) didn't check the qualification of the works and didn't get permission from the writer's estate, which is against auction rules."

Wang expressed her happiness with the decision and said she will now focus on the privacy issue for future legal action.

Poly Auction, which also intended to sell three letters written by Qian, canceled the sale on Sunday after receiving a letter from Dacheng Law Firm.

"Poly's action is the first step of protecting Yang's rights, while the court's reaction is the second," Wang said.

The China Association of Auctioneers, which is keeping an eye on the case, suggested on May 30 that Yang and Sungari enter into negotiations to resolve the dispute.

The Chinese Auction Law has no clear article about the auction of such works, "but this case is individual and should be handled based on Yang's feelings", said Ou Shuying, deputy secretary-general of the association.

She said the association has suggested Sungari halt the auction, considering the social effect and out of respect for Yang. So far, it has received no reply.

Yu Guofu, a lawyer specializing in copyrights at the Shengfeng Law Firm, said court's ban order means the auction cannot go ahead.

"However, legal action is not the best way to go about this. The court's reaction can't help solve the problem," he added.