Audi Joint Venture Ad Sparks Controversy in China Over Alleged Copyright Infringement

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Audi’s China joint venture has been forced to issue an apology for allegedly using a poem in an advertisement without the original author’s permission.

The joint venture, FAW-Volkswagen, said the advertisement was produced by M&C Saatchi, a British advertising agency. In response to the controversy, Audi ordered that the video be taken down and that the agency deal with the violation as soon as possible, reports China’s Global Times.

The advertisement directed by Peng Yangjun features a famous Hong Kong actor, Andy Lau, and was initially well received. It features the actor introducing the traditional Chinese solar term Xiaoman (grain buds), which falls at this time of year.

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On the very day of its release, however, an influencer named “Beida Mange” who is said to have over 4 million followers on Douyin, which is China’s version of TikTok, slammed the brand for copying his work.

Indeed, People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s publication, shared a video comparing the FAW-Volkswagen ad to the work of Beida Mange, with the two clips appearing to have the same text.

“We sincerely apologize to the original author and promise to do our best to compensate for the loss of the original author,” M&C Saatchi wrote in a statement. “We solemnly promise that we will respect and protect the rights and interests of the original authors in creative advertising, and strictly prevent this situation from happening.”

Audi shared this apology on social media site Weibo

The original ad has since been taken down, but it sparked a rhetoric on Weibo, another Chinese social media site, about copyright, including claims by some users that Mange was not the first to come up with the idea and copied it from other users.

Meanwhile, Chinanews reported that a recent BMW commercial titled “Liangcang x New BMW 8 Series” which was filmed by Peng Yangjun, the same director of Audi commercials, was mysteriously removed from multiple platforms without explanation.

Beyond the legal issues, the People’s Daily article suggests that Audi’s joint venture could also suffer “huge losses” to its corporate image, while urging regulators to investigate the matter. While Audi and most other Western automakers have their own share of complaints against (mostly) local manufacturers over design copyrights that don’t seem to get the attention of regulators (or People’s Daily ), the fact remains that China is extremely important for the German brand, which sold more than 700,000 cars in the country last year.

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