By Rey Panaligan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld a Manila regional trial court (RTC) decision that ordered a foreign firm and its three local partners to pay a Filipino publisher more than P24.7 million in damages for copyright infringement through the use of a forged Deed of Assignment of Copyright.
In a decision written by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario, the CA said the RTC did not commit any error in ordering M.Y. Intercontinental Trading Corp. (MITC), Tedwin T. Uy, Allianz Marketing and Publishing Corp. (Allianz) – the Filipino partners — and Fujian New Technology Color Making and Printing Company, LTD (Fujian) — a firm based in China — to pay damages and costs of litigation.
The complaint against the China firm and its Filipino partners was filed by St. Mary’s Publishing Corp. (SMPC) and its owner Jerry Vicente S. Catabijan through lawyer Oscar Manahan.
The CA said the factual findings in the 2017 RTC decision written by Judge Ma. Victoria A. Soriano Villadolid has not been reached arbitrarily or without sufficient basis and, thus, 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,” it ruled.
The RTC decision ordered MITC, Uy, Allianz and Fujian to solidarily pay the complainant a total of P24,695,830, including P18.06 million in actual damages, P1 million in moral damages, P2 million in exemplary damages, P500,000 in attorney’s fees, and P3,135,000 million in costs of suit.
The trial court said that “while defendant Fujian is a 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.”
It also ordered the foreign firm and the three local partners to desist from printing, copying, reproducing, importing, distributing and selling 12 original and revised editions of textbooks without the necessary approval of SMPC, the copyright owner of the books.
Case records showed that the controversy arose from the printing contract between SMPC and the China firm and its local partners 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.
The same records also showed that SMPC also issued a Purchase Order in December 2009 to Fujian for printing of additional textbooks (Development Reading Power for Grade 1 to 6 and Pagpapaunlad Ng Kasanayan Sa Pagbasa) for P11,347,781.08 covering a total of 301,000 copies of textbooks worth P300 each.
The RTC decision stated that 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 textbooks.
It said that Allianz, on the other hand, imported the textbooks from Fujian, China and sold them in the Philippines.
During the trial of the case, the RTC found that MITC was able to secure copyrights of the subject textbooks through a notarized Deed of Assignment of Copyright in March 2010, which was found to be a forged document.
It cited a report from the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory which found that the signature of Catabijan in the deed was forged.
“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,” the RTC decision stated.
“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,” it said.
It pointed out that the acts committed by MITC, Uy, Allianz and Fujian without the copyright owner’s prior consent make them “civilly and criminally liable for copyright infringement.”
In denying the petition for review filed by Fujian and its three local partners, the CA said the RTC’s findings are soundly based on prevailing laws and jurisprudence applicable to the particular statement of facts in this case.
“Wherefore, premises considered, the 8 December 2017 decision of the Regional Trial Court – Branch 24, Manila … is herein affirmed in toto,” the CA ruled.