"Content is king" has been one of the most cliched marketing taglines for China's new media, which, ironically, are not permitted to generate their own original news reporting on the ground in China, according to legislation.
Private digital media companies are not allowed to hire journalists in China or publish unique stories that come from domestic reporting. Instead, they can only aggregate news stories from non-digital Chinese media and state-owned digital outlets such as Xinhuanet.com and People.cn.
To learn more about how content gets created, CNBC spoke via WeChat messenger with a web editor employed by a Chinese digital media organization.
"For new media platforms, only good stories and in-depth analytical articles can attract viewers, but we are very much troubled by not being able to get the media license for original reporting," she said.
That editor, whose role includes writing Chinese summaries of foreign media stories, requested to remain anonymous out of concern for her career. Her employer, a financial news website, gets more than 15 million monthly active users.
Craving web traffic and the advertising dollars that follow, that website, like many of its peers in China, aggregates its stories by translating content from various western news sources, including CNBC, Bloomberg, Business Insider and TechCrunch, the editor said.
"It's not only us. Other Chinese websites are doing the same thing," said the financial site's employee, who publishes about four articles every day by her estimate. "We thought translating articles would be OK, because we mentioned the name of the original source. We don't mean to violate Western media's copyrights."
That sentiment was echoed by Shao, the intellectual property lawyer, who suggested that most Chinese plagiarism is due to ignorance of the law rather than disregard for it.
"Lacking of clear journalism guidance and awareness of intellectual property laws are two main reasons," Shao told CNBC. "There's massive demand for information in China at this information explosion era — and punishment for plagiarism could be negligible."
Current Chinese laws, he added, are relatively lenient toward online plagiarism — with a maximum compensation of 500,000 yuan (about $76,700) for lawsuits.
Changes to the industry, however, may be on the horizon.