Why is the Confucius Institute Online Stealing Content?

The Confucius Institute Online is taking China Expat’s content. That’s right, the Beijing-based institute with millions of dollars of resouces has been taking articles from ChinaExpat.com, an upstart website with no revenue dedicated to promoting Chinese culture and tourism. They have been taking original writing [update: the Institute resolved the problem on July 12th] in its entirety and passing it off as their own original content. In total more than four dozen (!) of our articles appear on their site and I could only find one time that they gave us credit. Just in case they try to eliminate the evidence we have taken numerous screen-shots and posted a sampling of them at the bottom of the article. This screen shot shows a page on their site that lists articles, every one of which [appears to be] stolen from China Expat. There are 20 (!) listed on this one page alone:

(Continue below screenshot) [update: July 11th’s entry tracks the progress with the Institute]

(Click on image for larger view)

Here is the mission statement from Confucius Institute Online’s site:

Confucius Institute Online is the online headquarters of all Confucius Institute centers [in the world]. The site is administered by the Office of Chinese language Council International under the Hanban program. Our website is dedicated to providing Chinese language learning resources for both teachers and students, as well as to the promotion, and greater understanding of Chinese culture.

It is the last six words that are particularly sad since there is a wide perception in the world that China cares little about intellectual property rights (IPR). At a time when the country is making progress toward fixing the problem it is especially shameful that an organization making millions of dollars of year would seemingly choose to steal from a Hong-Kong based website that is only looking to promote China.

[update: two major blogs picked up this story: One is MSNBC’s blog and the second is China Law Blog]

Our articles discuss lesser known regions of China and provide the expat community resources to make their lives here easier. Meanwhile a multi-million dollar school that overcharges its students and has ‘learning’ centers in dozens of countries cannot be bothered creating their own original articles, or even contacting us to ask for permission to reprint. The ‘school’ has gaudy marble statues and rich owners but cannot waste time sending an email asking if they can use other organizations’ articles.

[Update July 12th: The Confucius Institute has removed the content, and also contacted us expressing remorse both by email and phone.]

This situation unfortunately represents a mentality that some corners of Chinese society have found hard to shake. China first began its journey to the WTO in 1986, but was repeatedly rebuffed for its lax IPR enforcement. Six years after gaining entrance the country is clearly still struggling to catch up with its new elite position in the world.

The brazenness with which the institute chose to duplicate China Expat’s content is striking. In one week in June they appear to have stolen more than 50 pages of content from our website without a single article from a different source posted. Among those that they have taken were pieces about Uyghur musicians, our restaurant guides, and even a blog entry that I wrote[update: this blog entry is the only article that linked to us. However they did not receive permission to reproduce it]. Against my better judgment I am including a link to the site [update: the articles have since been removed and an apology was issued] since so that you can see the absurdity of it.

They seemed to especially take from us, but other English publications were not exempt from this [action]. In an ironic twist they saw fit to steal a 2006 article from the Beijing Review on piracy in China. The author’s name is included (presumably because it was part of the text) but not the source. Here’s the original.

As an institute whose very name conjures up images of the bedrock philosophy upon which Chinese culture is founded, this is a blatant and embarrassing indiscretion. The Confucius Institute Online should represent the proud tradition of an ancient civilization, not the sordid underbelly of modern China. This is not simply a naïve university student plagiarizing paragraphs from a famous writer. Instead it is a major [organization] taking advantage of an up and coming website trying to promote a foreign culture.

If China wants to shed its image as the wild-west of IPR, where stealing other people’s work is commonplace, it needs to shape up. Chinese often say that it is okay to buy copyrighted DVDs for 6 yuan because people here are poor and Hollywood is full of rich Americans. What can they say now that rich Chinese are taking from poor foreigners?

Below are some the webshots as evidence: [Update: I have sent an email to the contact address on the Confucius Institute Online they responded a few days later and I have posted their response.We have accepted their apology and believe they responded appropriately.]

(click to enlarge)

Above is the “borrowed” content. Below is the original.


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29 Responses to Why is the Confucius Institute Online Stealing Content?

  1. Richard says:

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but piracy carries with it a stab in the heart!

    Maybe we can all blog on their web site about what they do!

  2. ipdragon says:

    Dear Josh,

    I read about your ordeal and blogged about it at my site IP Dragon, gathering, commenting and sharing information about IP in China, to make it more transparent, since 2005.

    Here is the link: http://ipdragon.blogspot.com/2007/07/is-infringing-ipr-promoting-greater.html


    IP Dragon

  3. pablo says:

    Dude, are you based in China? blogspot is blocked. So you can steal content from THOSE blogs without fear of blowback hahaha.

  4. Pablo says:

    It looks like it got posted the same day it got sent. Plus there is a giant sign on the fron tpage that says the info went down and there is a link at the top of this entry. What do you want?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Curious why apology of CIO was not posted.

  6. It must be very frustrating. The silver lining (if you want to call it that – skant consolation though) is that you obviously create good content if they want to nick it.

  7. I know it is not looking too good for the Institute right now, but my legal training (and experience) has taught me not to “convict” until both sides have been heard. I have e-mailed the Institute and I am truly hoping they respond.

  8. Well at least you got an apology but it must be so frustrating knowing that the hard work and time you put into something can just be lifted and reused without asking or even acknowledgment.

    There needs to be stricter international agreements to ban this practice. Afterall spam is being dealt with internationally and I think content theft is just as serious.

  9. Anonymous says:

    According to tradition, Confucius was born in 551 BC. Spring and Autumn Period, at the beginning of the Hundred Schools of Thought philosophical movement. Confucius was born in or near the city of Qufu, in the Chinese State of Lu. ontwikkeling

  10. Intellectual property laws and enforcement vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

  11. Intellectual property laws are enforcable from anywhere

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  13. sex toys says:

    That is terrible, there should be some sort of action you can take against these people

  14. If it was happening anywhere else there would be legal action, but I guess in China things work differently

  15. condom says:

    I am from russia.. We people dont like this kind of behavior.We people call this as plagiarism..

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  17. I am a Chinese. Unfortunately, these behaviors are not good. To be frank, it is THEFT or plagiarism. China needs to improve the framework to enforce and educate her do things like rest of global clubs.

  18. to be honest thats the internet – people stealing all the time
    sorry but thats the reality get used to it!

  19. I hate it when someone is stealing content from me, but it happens.

  20. A very informative and helpful blog. Enjoyed reading it and the tips were great and truely helpful. Keep it up.

    Blog bookmarked and emailed to some friends.

  21. The kind of people who work at the Confucious Institute are not the kind of people who are pirating goods. Unfortunately there are several hundred million at least more of the latter kind.

  22. If it was happening anywhere else there would be legal action, but I guess in China things work differently

  23. forklift says:

    confuscius probably stole all his ideas too. what a hack.

  24. Xain Devraj says:

    I hate it when someone is stealing content from me, but it happens.

  25. Flattered? says:

    I just found out that a couple bloggers at Confucius Institute are showing my blog posts as if they wrote them. Where I had photos, they even substituted their own. Could you please tell me whom to contact at Confucius Institute about this issue. I do not wish to register with their web site in order to complain. This practice of plagiarism is a hideous insult to the great teacher, Master Confucius, after whom this “Institute” is named.

  26. Ernie says:

    The inheritors of Confucian thought hold that immorality is only bad if one loses face as a result of it. You’ll have to make a big stink, shout and shake your finger an inch from someone’s face.

  27. Lydia Lin says:

    Giving this a try. Thanks for the tip.

  28. should put a copyright law in place. then enforce it.

  29. Ernie says:

    Chinese law is but a refuge for scoundrels, Affordable Glass Man.

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