Copyright case ruling affirmed

June 02, 2019

THE Court of Appeals has affirmed as a whole the landmark copyright infringement decision rendered by a Manila City regional trial court in 2017 finding a Chinese company based in China and its three local business partners guilty of copyright infringement and awarding P24.7 million in damages to a Filipino publishing company.

In an 11-page decision dated April 11, 2019, the CA’s Eleventh Division through Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario upheld in its entirety the December 8, 2017 decision rendered by Judge Ma. Victoria A. Soriano-Villadolid of the Manila City RTC Branch 24, which ordered the defendants M.Y. Intercontinental Trading Corp. (MITC), its owner Tedwin T. Uy, Allianz Marketing and Publishing Corp. (Allianz) and China-based firm Fujian New Technology Color Making and Printing Company, LTD (Fujian) to pay St. Mary’s Publishing Corporation (SMPC) and its owner Jerry Vicente S. Catabijan damages amounting to P24,695,830.

The appellate court also sustained Villadolid’s order requiring the defendants to desist from printing, copying, importing, revising, distributing, reproducing, promoting and selling of pertinent textbooks of SMPC and copies thereof, including copies of the revised editions or other formatted versions of said works.

The appellate court ruled that it “finds no merit” in the petition for review filed by the defendants who sought the reversal of the judgment rendered by the Manila City RTC in favor of SMPC and Catabijan.

“Wherefore, premises considered, the 8 December 2017 decision of the Regional Trial Court – Branch 24, Manila . . . is herein affirmed in toto,” the CA declared, upholding that the lower court “ha[s] not overlooked any particular facts of substance and value which, if considered, would have affected the result of the case.”

“We cannot touch on the merits of the infringement case which lies within the jurisdiction of the trial court, in the absence of any misapprehension or misappreciation of facts that are of weight and substance in the consideration of the case,” the appellate court stressed.

The CA stressed that the RTC’s factual findings have not been reached arbitrarily or without sufficient basis and its assessment on credibility must be fully respected.

“In light of all these, we are herein constrained to uphold the court a quo’s finding, as they are soundly based on prevailing laws and jurisprudence applicable to the particular statement of facts in this case,” the appellate court ruled.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) litigator Oscar M. Manahan, counsel for the plaintiffs, said he believes that the CA in toto affirmation of the decision rendered by RTC of Manila City, Branch 24, is consistent with Philippine commitment to recognize and to enforce Copyright Laws in the Philippines being a party to the Berne Convention.

Atty. Manahan believes that the RTC Decision affirmed by the CA highlights the importance of copyrights protected under Philippine Copyright law (RA 8293) and the Berne Convention and enforceable against both the foreign company based in China and three local defendants. Copyright owners and publishers of copyrighted works can fully avail themselves of their legal remedies citing this landmark jurisprudence.

Philippines and China are party signatories to the Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic works.

In denying the petition for review filed by the defendants, the CA said it did not find the RTC in error in its ruling, aptly citing prevailing jurisprudence on the matter and found no controversy on what the law is given the statement of facts in the instant case.

The CA also found the supposed Deed of Assignment from which petitioners supposedly derived an authority to sell the books that private respondents were claiming as theirs was not valid and subsisting.

The appellate court concluded that the findings of RTC are borne out by the evidence on record and cannot but be respected, saying the findings of the trial court are accorded not only the highest respect, but also finality, unless some weighty circumstance has been ignored or misunderstood but which could alter the result and could affect the judgment to be rendered.

It said findings of the trial court are entitled to great weight and respect. Case law has it that the findings of facts of the trial court, its calibration of the evidence of the parties and its conclusions anchored on its findings are accorded by the appellate court high respect if not conclusive effect, the CA added.

In ruling against the petitioners, the CA upheld the court a quo’s findings as they are soundly based on prevailing laws and jurisprudence applicable to the particular statement of facts in this case.

In its December 8, 2017 ruling, Special Commercial Court Judge Villadolid held: “In light of the totality of evidence at hand, the Court finds that plaintiffs were able to preponderate their claim of forgery against the Deed of Assignment of Copyright dated 12 March 2010. In view of its invalidity, the Certificates of Copyright Registration dated 18 January 2012 relied upon by defendants Uy, et. al. to prove defendant MITC’s copyrights are therefore void.”

“Accordingly, at the time defendant Fujian authorized defendant MITC to enter into a contract to market and sell the textbooks covered under P.O. dated  7  December  2010  and  at  the  time  defendant  Allianz  sold  and/or  offered for sale the Subject Textbooks, the copyrights of said books, as well as all the other books mentioned above for which plaintiff SMPC was issued copyright registration certificates, belong to plaintiff SMPC,” the Manila City court said, citing pertinent provisions of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, which provide that “copyright or economic rights shall consist of the exclusive right to carry out, authorize or prevent” the reproduction, dramatization, translation, adaptation, abridgment, arrangement or “other transformation of the work and the first public distribution of the original and each copy of work by sale or other forms of transfer of ownership.”

The appellate court stressed that any person who performs any of the acts mentioned above without obtaining the copyright owner’s prior consent renders himself civilly and criminally liable for copyright infringement.

It stressed that defendant Fujian’s act of authorizing defendant MITC to enter into a contract to market and sell the textbooks covered under P.O. dated December 7, 2010 and defendant Allianz’ act of selling or offering for sale the Subject textbooks constitutes copyright  infringement.

While  defendant  Fujian  is  a  foreign  corporation based in  China,  its act constitutes copyright infringement pursuant to the Berne  Convention  for  the  Protection  of  Literary  and  Artistic  Works  on  1 August 1951, among the members of which is China which became a party to the Convention on 15 October 1992.

In addition, it was established that defendant Allianz also printed, published, and sold copies of textbooks “Development Reading Power Supplements K+12 Compliance Textbooks (Revised Edition) which is the same  as  plaintiff  SMPC’s  books  except  for  the  copyright  page  and  the cover, further infringing on plaintiffs’ copyrights, the appellate court noted.

The case arose from the printing contract between SMPC and the defendants for the printing of SMPC textbooks in Fujian’s factory in China. SMPC issued Authority to Print Textbooks three times to Fujian in September, October and November 2009.

However, Fujian did not deliver the textbooks to SMPC and instead issued to MITC the Authority to Enter into Contract to Market and to Sell the textbook.

Allianz, on the other hand, imported the textbooks from Fujian, China and sold them in the Philippines.