China loves Gundam. But China doesn't always love copyright law. That can be a problem!
Bandai Namco, owner of the Gundam toy license, took China's Hongli All Toys to court in 2009 for knocking off the famed Japanese mechs. Even before the lawsuit's final ruling, Gundam clones continued to pop up in the Mainland.
Copyright enforcement in China is increasing. A natural result of economic explosion, the expansion of intellectual property rights isn't only to protect foreign companies like Bandai Namco in China, but also domestic companies as well.
Old habits die hard. In China, a blind eye was turned to knock-offs for years. But increasingly, that's changing. Japanese companies are also guilty of knock-offs—just look at all the Monster Hunter and Professor Layton clones—but due to a strict legal system, they need to be slightly less obvious.
Whether it's the iPed or the orange Gundam, the Japanese media takes delight in catching China's copyright transgressions as siblings would tattle on each other.
Late last year, Chinese theme park Floraland Park erected an orange-colored mech that looked like Gundam. The Floraland figure sported logos that read EFSF and WB on its shoulders, which are abbreviations for Gundam's "Earth Federation Space Force" and the anime's mothership "White Base".
The theme park denied there were similarities, saying their giant mech was original. The statue disappeared, and then later reappeared with new spiky shoulder and shin pads. Japan, for the most part, appeared amused with the lengths their neighbor went to disguise the knock-off, leading to a flurry of fan art (see gallery, courtesy of はちま起稿).
Hongli All Toys didn't create toys based on the Floraland "Chinese Gundam", thought it should've, because that would've been awesome, but according to Bandai Namco's suit, Mobile Suit Gundam and the SD Gundam Sangokuden: Brave Battle Warriors. Hongli's mech toys do look quite similar to the SD Gundam Sangokuden—it's not just but a Chinese court who ruled in Bandai's favor. Hongli appealed, but the court ruled in Bandai's favor.
Besides being forced to pay the equivalent of USD$120,000 in legal fees and ceasing the sale and manufacture of its Gundam knock-offs, Hongli was ordered to write an apology in Business China, reports Japan's Inside Games. The apology was published on May 13. As of posting, Hongli's website still has pictures of the toys online, along with its own copyright notice.
For all the differences and tension, Gundam does bring Japan and China together. This court ruling helps ensure that it's Gundam that's doing the bridge building and not, you know, Gunzam or whatever.