By Jiang Ling, Partner, King & Wood’s Trademark Department
The term "works" used and protected under the Copyright Law refers to original intellectual creations in the literary, artistic and the scientific domain, in so far as they are capable of being reproduced in a certain tangible form. As for literal works, this refers to the works manifested in text form, no matter how long it is or what type or format of literature it uses. As long as it is original, it should be within the scope of protection by the PRC Copyright Law (as well as Trademarks as previously discussed). Therefore, it can be concluded that an advertising slogan is in principle not excluded from copyright protection on the condition that it is original. However, the Copyright Law does not define what "original" is. Judging by judicial practice, the expression of original works may not necessarily be unprecedented, and re-creation based on previous intellectual works of others is not forbidden either. In general, works possess originality as long as it is created by the author independently rather than plagiarizing others’ works which bears some personalized characteristics. Thus, it is possible for slogans to be copyrighted.
In practice, there are some instances in which advertising slogans are granted copyright protection. For example, in the case of Cheng Du Huangchenglaoma restaurant vs. Beijing Huangronglaoma hotpot restaurant, the court held that the slogans used by the plaintiff possessed the originality to qualify as a literal work and thus should be protected under the copyright law. Accordingly, the defendant infringed on the copyrights of the plaintiff in using the same slogans during its daily business. As to how to judge the originality of advertising slogans, the court specifically made the following analysis and statement on the verdict, " ‘original’ mentioned in the copyright law means that the works are created by the author independently without plagiarism or imitation, which is mainly manifested in the selection, design and composition of certain material. Although the vocabulary which comprises the slogans was not original, through the plaintiff’s selection, combination and arrangement, they have reflected certain personalized characters.
Moreover, if advertising slogan has become a symbol or identifier of the company through long-term use and promotion, hence closely associated with the goodwill and the products of the company, it may also seek protection under the Anti-unfair Competition Law against other party’s unauthorized use.
In fierce market competition, companies tend to promote their brand and products by adopting unique advertising slogans. Advertising slogans could become a symbolic sign of the company and thereby attain an intangible value just like a trademark. Under the existing legislation and in practice, advertising slogans can 1) be protected under the Trademark Law through trademark registration, as long as it is original and could function as a source indicator. 2) slogans that have built a connection with certain enterprises in the course of business should also fall within the protection scope of the Anti-Unfair Competition Law. 3) original advertising slogans may also be protected under the Copyright Law. Among the three, trademark registration is the most effective means of protection.