Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

The Chinese Cultural Perceptions of Innovation, Fair Use, and the Public Domain: A Grass-Roots Approach to Studying the U.S.-China Copyright Disputes

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Oliver Boyd-Barrett (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Dominic Catalano (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Victoria Ekstrand (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Canchu Lin (Committee Member)


The purpose of this dissertation project was to explore the Chinese cultural perceptions of copyright and the Chinese historical understanding and social practices of innovation, fair use, and the public domain so as to provide a grass-roots approach to studying the recurring U.S-China copyright disputes. Guided by the theoretical frameworks of the theory of reasoned action, strategic and tactical resistance, and hegemony as well as Hofstede's individualism-collectivism cultural dimension, the researcher has conducted 45 in-depth interviews of Chinese copyright holders and consumers for data collection and used hermeneutics and thematic analysis to examine the data. The research findings are as follows: (I) Just a small number of the participants, who are lawyers, editors, and authors, offered complete and insightful understanding of the concepts under discussion while the majority who are university teachers, college and high school students, as well as business people and farmers demonstrated very vague understanding of the concepts. (II) Copyright piracy is so common in China that it is hard not to follow the stream. (III) As for the reasons for piracy, the study indicated that (i) the Chinese copyright legal system lacks a matching cultural environment; (ii) the levels of Chinese income and copyright awareness call for adjusted U.S. strategies of intellectual property rights (IPR) and flexible prices of intellectual property (IP) products at the Chinese market; and (iii) at odds with the modern concept of copyright are the Chinese tradition of sharing with one another, taking from others and the public without any sense of guilt, and disfavoring criminal litigation of copyright infringement as a result of the Confucian pursuit of social harmony. (IV) To awaken and enhance the national awareness of copyright protection in China, the study showed that: (i) if the government is really serious about copyright piracy, ordinary people will also take copyright protection seriously; (ii) most Chinese need to be educated about copyright and IPR via media, schools, and law enforcement; and (iii) more emphasis on national innovation can bring about the self-motivated driving force to protect copyright from domestic innovators as stake-holders. (V) To resolve the U.S.-China copyright disputes, the study revealed three kinds of suggestions: (i) maximum patience and genuine help with the Chinese creation of the cultural environment for the enforcement of the copyright law; (ii) flexible prices of copyright products at the Chinese market; and (iii) following the golden mean to promote innovation and protect copyright. The adopted theoretical frameworks have proved useful in interpreting the meanings of the research findings and their scope and applicability have been either expanded or reconfirmed. As the first qualitative study of the U.S.-China copyright disputes based on the Chinese cultural perceptions of innovation, fair use, and the public domain, this study fills a void by enriching the body of knowledge on copyright disputes between the United States as the biggest developed country and China as the largest developing country.