Blockchain data accepted as evidence in legal complaint filed by short video app Douyin

Hit Chinese short video app Douyin, operated by Beijing-based Bytedance, has used the newly-established Beijing Internet Court to file a copyright infringement law suit against Baidu’s Huopai Video platform

The court announced on Monday that it would hear the case and will recognise evidence stored on blockchain, a first in the country’s video streaming industry.

Douyin is seeking compensation of around 1 million yuan (US$145,600) from Huopai for unauthorised operation and downloads of a short video in May.

Spokeswomen from Bytedance and Baidu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Douyin requested a third-party company, Beijing Zhongjing Tianping, to store evidence on blockchain relating to the content Huopai had allegedly published illegally, according to Chinese-language law magazine People’s Rule of Law.

China’s internet courts now accept and process internet-related legal cases online, according to a ruling by the Supreme People’s Court. Beijing internet Court, launched on Sunday, said it had already received 207 legal complaints as of 6pm Monday. Hangzhou internet Court, China’s first internet court, was launched last August.

Last Friday, China’s Supreme People’s Court ruled that internet courts would recognise blockchain data as one form of digital evidence.

“Blockchain has features of decentralisation and openness, therefore, content stored on it will be perpetual and hard to tamper with,” said Qin Pengfei, a paralegal with Shanghai Dabang Law firm. “The features of blockchain will remove human interference as much as possible, which will make the information stored on blockchain more credible.”

China’s Douyin accuses Tencent of being anti-competitive

Lawyers familiar with copyright cases said that prior to blockchain, defendants could easily remove or modify digital records that could prove copyright infringements, leaving plaintiffs with a lack of evidence.

“As people are thinking how else blockchain can be used after bitcoin, collecting evidence for legal purposes might be another feasible use,” said Qin.

Chinese courts’ acceptance of blockchain data may lead to a surge in the number of start-ups that focus on blockchain storage, according to Qin.

Although the country’s financial regulators recently clamped down on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs), it has always conveyed a positive attitude towards blockchain technology. In 2016, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang included blockchain development when announcing the country’s five-year plan through to 2021.

China is not the first to accept blockchain records as legal evidence. The US state of Vermont passed a law two years ago that allows courts to use data on blockchain as evidence.

However, the acceptance of evidence stored on the blockchain may have little impact on non-internet-related civil or criminal lawsuits, said copyright lawyer Liu Hongze, who works at Beijing Yingke Law Firm. “Blockchain data being legal evidence is relatively new and courts’ acceptance of it will depend on individual courts and situations,” said Liu. “I’m still learning about this.”