To share is fair : The changing face of China's fair use doctrine in the sharing economy and beyond

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

2 Scopus Citations
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-28
Journal / PublicationComputer Law and Security Review
Issue number1
Online published28 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


Copyrighted works are greatly entwined with the concept of the sharing economy because of their status as informational public goods. Unlike commercial sharing models that address tangible goods such as bikes and houses, the sharing of which is limited by their physical nature, sharing models for intangible copyrighted works such as Google Books and live game webcasting must account for the comparatively unfettered ability for these to be shared. Accordingly, these models are more focused on exploiting such works to their full commercial potential. However, these sharing models are to a large extent based on the unauthorised exploitation of copyrighted works and will be unworkable if the related copyright issues cannot be solved. The interest that copyright owners have in exclusivity must thus be balanced with the public's interest in further exploitation of copyrighted works. Article 22 of the Copyright Law of China outlines an exhaustive list of copyright exceptions; such a restrictive list is incompatible with the sharing economy. The Chinese courts have realised this problem and have gone beyond the law in their judgments, taking a cue from their US counterparts. However, many of these decisions appear to be inconsistent with one another.
To address the aforementioned problems, this paper examines the latest proposed amendment to the Copyright Law of China and proposes several legislative and judicial actions that could help promote the sharing economy. At the legislative level, enacting legislation based on a refined open-ended fair use model is necessary to promote the development of the sharing economy. At the judicial level, Chinese courts should employ the concept of transformative use to correctly interpret legislation based on the proposed open-ended model. With transformative use as the cornerstone of copyright policy, the public gains the freedom to share others’ works, participate in the innovation process, and create works with new value. Moreover, authors would retain an incentive to create works under such a legal regime because market substitution will not occur if a work is used for a different expressive purpose than that for which the work was originally created. Thus, a balance can be achieved between promoting the sharing economy and protecting the exclusivity of copyright in China.

Research Area(s)

  • Fair use, Google books, Live game webcasting, Sharing economy, Transformative use