Internet writers strike against ‘unfair contracts’ with Tencent company

Society & Culture
Credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Hundreds of thousands of writers signed to China Literature, the country’s biggest online publisher, went on an online strike on May 5. They were protesting against exploitative contracts and the company’s regular infringement of their intellectual property rights. China Literature is a subsidiary of Tencent, the Chinese internet behemoth behind WeChat.

The strike was a protest against proposed changes to China Literature’s business model and contracts with its writers. Writers stopped publishing new content on the website on the day of the strike.

Rumors swirling inside the community of China Literature’s users indicated the company was planning to remove its paywall on all of the content on its site and rely solely on advertisements as primary drivers of revenue. According to the organizers, the potential move will negatively affect writers’ income, which primarily comes from subscription fees and tips from their readers. China Literature has neither confirmed nor denied the plans.

Protest organizers were also critical of China Literature’s existing approach to intellectual property. As many of them pointed out, while the company was extremely successful in turning its writers’ intellectual property assets, such as games and films, into multiple streams of revenues, the content creators themselves were often excluded from this business. Writers said the website forced them to sign agreements when they began writing for the platform that required them to fully relinquish control of their work at a low price.

The strike comes on the heels of a major leadership change at China Literature: A few members of the company’s senior management team, most of whom were early employees who built the website, resigned and were replaced by people from Chinese internet giant Tencent, which is China Literature’s largest shareholder.