Art law News China

China gets creative with copyright

International plagiarism case shines a spotlight on the country's ineffective laws protecting artists’ work

The 1983 version of Capotondi’s Sferosnodo (left) and the Kunshan copy

A case of international plagiarism has shone a spotlight on the ineffective laws that protect artists’ work from being copied in China.

The Italian sculptor Claudio Capotondi, who won the prestigious Michelangelo Prize in 2000, says he felt “robbed” when his gallery sent him a photograph of a station in Kunshan, a satellite city in the greater Suzhou region, in front of which was a giant replica of Sferosnodo, a sculpture he created in bronze in 1978 and in marble in 1983.

“My gallerist’s former Chinese collaborator got hold of a model of the sculpture in Shanghai and my work was eventually copied,” Capotondi says.

After “vain attempts” to set things straight from abroad, Capotondi is now considering a trip to China to find out what can be done (it is currently unclear who owns the copy of his work), and is determined to at least have the work attributed to him.

In the meantime, his website lists the sculpture as his own. The Chinese lawyer Lifang Dong, who is based in Rome and specialises in Chinese intellectual property law, says that “copyright is certainly protected by the law in China, but talking about the law in general is quite different from applying it. China is a large country and very difficult.”

Diana Rulli, an Italian intellectual property lawyer, said on Italian television that this was “an obvious case of plagiarism… but bringing the case to the Chinese government is no mean feat”.

Capotondi, meanwhile, admits that he is impressed by the work. “They are excellent craftsmen over there,” he says. “It is a complex structure and the copy is much bigger than my original.”

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