ByteDance, who owns TikTok,the Chinese video-sharing social network, has won a court battle against Baidu, the Chinese search-engine giant, for copyright infringement of its videos. It was able to prove, through the landmark use of blockchain technology in the Chinese courts, that Baidu had been stealing its copyrighted videos and uploading onto its rival social network, Huopai.

BACKGROUND

Known as Douyin in China, TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity in the past year, attributable to its user-generated content and to the videos on the platform which have gone viral.

Douyin was founded in 2016 by ByteDance, a company set up by tech entrepreneur Zhang Yiming in 2012 – it was subsequently released outside of China as TikTok in 2017.

Baidu is effectively the Chinese version of Google (which is banned in China) and is the most popular search-engine in the country and is based out of Beijing.

Both companies are markers of the burgeoning tech scene in China and have been involved in numerous litigious proceedings in recent years, not just with each other, but with the other big tech companies, such as Ali Baba (e-commerce giant) and Tencent (video game giant).

The creation of the Hangzhou Internet Court in 2017, established to deal with disputes over e-commerce and copyright infringement on the Internet, is indicative of the fact that the Chinese tech companies are keen to protect the intellectual property of their particular brand and its innovations more than ever.

Importantly, this court ruled that evidence enabled by blockchain would be admissible in court (i.e. for the purpose of authenticating presented evidence).

LITIGATION HISTORY

The present dispute follows on from various lawsuits brought by Baidu against ByteDance in the Haidian district court in Beijing last year concerning ByteDance’s search-engine, Toutiao, a rival for Baidu.

Baidu accused Toutiao of unfair competition by ranking ByteDance products above Baidu ones on its search-engine, even if Baidu products were specifically searched for.

This, in turn, follows on from other lawsuits launched by Baidu against ByteDance for defamation, copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. Conversely, the Vice President of ByteDance, Li Liang, won a defamation case against Baidu for posting slanderous messages about him online last year.

TIKTOK’S CASE AGAINST BAIDU

Within hours of Baidu making its claim for unfair competition, ByteDance counter-claimed.

In TikTok’s case against Baidu for copyright infringement, it alleged that Baidu had stolen video content from its app and uploaded that content onto its video-sharing app Huopai. It filed evidence alleging that Huopai allowed its users to share and download videos that it owned the exclusive rights to.

TikTik went about proving that Baidu had stolen its content through blockchain technology. Blockchain is a system which stores data which is alleged to be immutable. This means that data in the Blockchain cannot be altered. TikTok could therefore prove with irrefutable blockchain evidence that Baidu had indeed infringed their copyright.

USE OF BLOCKCHAIN GOING FORWARD

This is a landmark case as it is the first time that the courts have actively allowed blockchain to be used so extensively in order to prove copyright infringement.

Blockchain technology gives brands and innovators a high degree of intellectual property protection because of its immutability – the fact that the Chinese courts have started to admit blockchain-derived evidence in proceedings could signal a shift in intellectual property law globally and indeed, would be good news for those companies or individuals who are looking to get maximum protection for their intellectual property.

As evidence derived from blockchain has been deemed admissible by the Chinese courts, and has now been used in court, we can expect to hear a lot more about blockchain in the future, particularly in the intellectual property world.