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As Emojis Catch Fire in China, Creators Seek IP Protection

Emojis, the latest form of intellectual property, are turning out to be a moneymaker in China and well worth further protection from piracy.
Take for example Rumi, a panda-like emoji that has been downloaded on social media more than 340 million times.
Rumi is among millions of emojis that have been created in China, as design companies and groups of artists sprout up across the nation.
Analysts say the screen symbols have become a burgeoning IP business, albeit one that needs further development and protection to maximize its value.
Emojis, which have evolved from character-based emoticons, are part and parcel of a great many messages exchanged by users of instant-messaging apps, social media and email.
An increasing number of users, especially the young, love to use emojis because they help spice up their messages with slick meanings, moods or states of mind that are best expressed quickly, not in words, but through interesting or funny images.
Not only do people use emojis, they also tip the creators. China's largest social media platform, WeChat, told China Daily that more than 6.9 million users tipped emoji artists in 2017, parting with nearly 14 million yuan ($2 million; 1.8 million euros; £1.5 million) in all, up by 13 percent year-on-year.
The return can be handsome. Zhang Xuchen, 39, a part-time emoji creator from Tianjin, says he earns a decent income, tens of thousands of yuan a year, simply through tips from netizens, which supplements his job as a forklift truck driver.
Companies are also joining this IP industry chain, with enterprises fighting over the licensing rights to use creative content to create merchandise such as emoji dolls, cosmetics, accessories, jewelry and bank cards.
StarMoly, the developer of Rumi, has developed its own IP products including smartphone shells, coin purses and books. These products alone generated a total of 500,000 yuan in just four months at the end of last year.
"Driven by the wide use of social media in nearly every corner in China, emojis are undoubtedly a promising IP," says Lin Dongdong, president of StarMoly.
StarMoly, founded in 2016, is an IP developer that owns more than 30 emoji IPs, including Moer the raccoon, Quby the baby, Waang the egg and Xiao the cat. Its emojis have been downloaded more than 1.4 billion times.
Unlike traditional IPs, the company's emojis will change their costumes and status according to different situations, which brings the digital-based images alive.
StarMoly has also cooperated with an array of companies to develop its IPs. It has authorized its emojis for use in domestic publicity for The Shape of Water, an Oscar-winning film. Microsoft has also used its emojis to make gifts for Lunar New Year.
"To protect our IPs, we are very cautious when choosing our partners. We only choose those well-known and high-quality brands, including Lay's, Microsoft, Discovery and Taobao, to make sure that our IPs are protected," Lin says.
Lin says there are many cases of abuse and piracy involving emojis and related sectors in China.
Cheng Yanbo, an independent gaming and pan-entertainment analyst, says, "Emojis are very likely to be infringed upon because most of them are in digital forms, which are very easy to be copied and used again."
In addition, he says, "It is a brand-new and wild area that lacks supervision."
A case in point, Cheng says, is the face-palm emoji, one of the country's most widespread characters. It was recently registered as a trademark by a clothing maker from Zhejiang province instead of the emoji's creator, WeChat.
"To protect these emoji IPs, related rules and regulations are needed to protect the IP rights of both creators and companies," he says.

Source: China Daily Europe