The Future of the Right to Maintain the Integrity of a Work: A Case Study on the Trial Judgment in the Copyright Dispute Chronicles of a Ghostly Tribe
(Autho: Wang Huayun; Source: Watson & Band)
Before Zhang Muye, also known as “Tian Xia Ba Chang”, filed a lawsuit over the film Chronicles of the Ghosty Tribe for infringing his rights to the integrity of the series The Ghouls, the concept of the protection of the integrity of artistic work was still all but unknown to the public. The trial verdict that the film did not infringe the integrity of the protected work authored by Tian Xia Ba Chang revealed the impotence of the application of the right to maintain the integrity of a copyrighted work.
To begin with, the right of maintaining the integrity of a work is a moral right of the copyrighted work — the author of the infringed work may demand the cessation of infringement and the elimination of adverse effects, but may not demand damages. Furthermore, a comparison of the scope of protection of the right of maintaining the integrity of a work with the scopes of protection of the rights of publication, authorship and amendment, which are also moral rights of the copyrighted work, reveals the limited and fuzzy definition of the former. The right of publication is a crucial instrument for exposing the work to the public, although it is limited by the “one-time exercise” principle (because you can no longer preserve the confidentiality of a secret once it is made public); the right of authorship demands identification of the source of the work in order to forge a close link between the author and the work; and the right of amendment protects the purity of a work by prohibiting unauthorized deletion and modification. In contrast, purpose of the right of maintaining the integrity of a work is to “protect it from misrepresentation or manipulation”, which seems to overlap with the scope of protection of the right of amendment. Moreover, terms like “misrepresentation” and “manipulation” are difficult to define.
I tried to retrieve cases using the key phrase “the right to protect the integrity of a work”; however, this approach yielded few search results. The interpretation of the right to protect the integrity of a work as indicated by these cases can be applied indiscriminately by referring to the right of amendment; the right to protect the integrity of a work does not possess any distinctive elements of its own. In 1996, F, a writer, claimed the right of protection of the integrity of a work against a TV drama adapted from his novel, claiming that it tampered with the plot and characters. Ultimately the court ruled against F on the grounds that F failed to raise an objection during the six months of filming of the adapted TV drama and absence of evidence supporting the claim that the adaption had been so clumsy as to have constituted misrepresentation and manipulation of the original novel. Due to these strict conditions, very few lawsuits have attempted to invoke the right of protection of the integrity of a work. Scholars commented that the alteration to the key characters or key plot elements might change the thoughts or the feelings that the author had intended to express, and more importantly, the object of criticism of the original work, which could compromise the reputation of the author.
As the intellectual property becomes a popular word, discrepancies between the authorized adapted version and the original work (as in the case of Chronicles of a Ghosty Tribe) is also increasingly prone to criticism. The court of first instance in the Chronicles of a Ghosty Tribe case held that, in consideration of the balancing of interests, the author should tolerate the alteration and recreation of his work within a certain scope. The opinion of the court is understandable; however, since the authorization of the right of adaptation is usually comprehensive, and since the author of the original work has no way of predicting how his work will be adapted, it is somewhat unfair to simply ask the author to tolerate inappropriate adaptation. On the other hand, I cannot agree with the court of first instance that since the complete version of the work becomes known to the public when it is published, the main issue at stake should be whether or not the prosecuted adapted work has damaged the reputation of the author of the original work. An adaptation of the “spirit” of a work is still identifiable with the original work; otherwise, the adapter could have created a completely unique work with no need to undergo complex procedures to obtain rights to the original. Consequently, an adapted work should be closely connected to the original work, so that the honor of one of them is the honor of the other one and vice versa. A poorly adapted work will encounter the resentment of keen readers of the original work and will also create a negative impression on those unfamiliar with the original work. Taking my own experience as an example, as a lover of the animated series Black Cat Sheriff, I was inexorably attracted to the character of Mr. Black as the embodiment of justice. When I learned about an online animation also called Black Cat Sheriff, I was shocked to find that Mr. Black had become a fat, ruthless police officer who partnered with villains. Although I would not confuse the online animation with the original work, the experience was still traumatic – it caused me to “hit the ceiling” and permanently abandon my affection for Black Cat Sheriff.
An artistic creation derives its aesthetic significance from its inclusion of the author’s aspirations and emotions as well as its conveyance of the author’s values. On one hand, it is reasonable to offer protection of the abstract value of a work, the potential economic value behind the reputation of the work and the “virtual personality” embodied by the characters in the work; on the other hand, authorized adaptation based on autonomy of will should be permitted and encouraged in order to infuse vitality and unrestrained imagination into the work. Among all of the rights that comprise a copyright, the right to protect the integrity of a work is the only right that offers relatively effective protection of the theme of the work, which is a unique means of rendering it the most potentially powerful and suitable instrument for balancing the conflict between the abstract value and the economic value of the work.
In my opinion, in the future the focus of enforcing the right to protect the integrity of a work should be coordination between the original work and the authorized adapted version. The following mechanisms will be necessary to guarantee effective enforcement:
I. An alteration by an adapter to the plot and key characters should be approved by the author of the original work;
II. The author of the original work should comment on the foregoing request for approval within a reasonable time, and failure to do so should be deemed an approval;
III. The author should not be limited by the foregoing “reasonable time” to raise an objection to any adaptation that violates public order or good morals;
IV. Once granted, author approval should not be subject to recall by the author of the original work;
V. In consideration of the balancing of interests, the methods for assuming liability for infringing the right to protect the integrity of a work should include amendment, deletion and replacement of offensive content; a notification placed in a conspicuous position in the adapted work, and a prohibition against the adapter publicizing the connection between the adapted work and the original work.