The two largest online video sites in China, Youku and Tudou are embroiled in a copyright dispute, both accusing each other of using each other’s exclusive content. In the latest punch thrown, Tudou is suing Youku for 150 million yuan in damages over pirating exclusive rights to “Kangxi Lai Le”, a popular Taiwanese entertainment show.

Subsequently Youku also announced that Tudou was pirating their content such as Korean variety shows produced by SBS, and Chinese TV series “武则天秘史” and more than 60 other TV series. However Tudou claims that for the content they did not pay for, they have already deleted it after receiving copyright infringement notice in September and December. Yet for the Korean content, they are claiming to have legitimately purchased the license until December 31 2011. But Youku does not believe these claims and has also announced its decision to initiate proceedings against Tudou.

This dispute demonstrates how big public companies are aggressively competing for market share in a heated market. Tudou, Youku, Qiyi, Sogu, Xunlei have all started to buy licensed content in order to deliver the best user experience and drive stickiness and hence attract advertising revenue to impress shareholders. It is rather ironic that at the beginning, these video sites were accused of stealing video content from America and subsequently came under fire for it. Now they are ‘stealing’ content each other, I wonder if they now realize how it feels.

For a long time, content in China has been stolen, copied, ripped by any means. However, now that big media businesses are built on original content, it is becoming more important for them to protect. This legal dispute between Youku and Tudou could be part of the new undercurrent of copyright enforcement in China; a change that will have repercussions for many industries from publishing to music to movies in the future.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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