Copyright belongs to that category of rights that we refer to as “intellectual property rights”. It confers both economic rights on the owner (e.g. the right to copy and sell a written work) and moral rights (e.g. the right to claim authorship of a written work).

The origin of the term “copyright” in English is quite straightforward: the word literally means “the right to copy”. There are two words that have been used in Chinese to express this concept: banquan, which is close to the English word and means “printing rights”, and zhuzuoquan, which derives from the concept of the “right of authorship” under German law and is the statutory term used in China.

Written documents are among the most common “work products” that lawyers create and include memoranda of advice and contracts. This column considers whether lawyers enjoy copyright in relation to written documents and the exclusive rights that copyright confers, such as the right to copy, revise, rearrange and translate.

Although lawyers rarely turn their mind to this question, and very rarely claim copyright against their clients, it is not simply a theoretical issue. In fact, the standard engagement terms that law firms provide to their clients often include a provision that deals with this question. Take, for example, the following provision:

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葛安德 Andrew Godwin
Andrew Godwin

A former partner of Linklaters Shanghai, Andrew Godwin teaches law at Melbourne Law School in Australia, where he is an associate director of its Asian Law Centre. Andrew’s new book is a compilation of China Business Law Journal’s popular Lexicon series, entitled China Lexicon: Defining and translating legal terms. The book is published by Vantage Asia and available at