BIC case included in SPC’s typical civil cases on personality rights protection
To better guide courts nationwide to correctly apply the provisions concerning personality rights in the Civil Code which took effect on Jan 1, 2021, the Supreme People's Court recently released nine typical civil cases on personality rights protection. A case on intelligent algorithm software that allegedly infringed personality rights at the Beijing Internet Court (BIC) appeared on the list.
The defendant is the operator of a smartphone billing software where users could create “AI companions” by themselves for interactions in the app. Users can decide the their AI companions’ names and avatars and set the interactive content through system functions. The plaintiff, a public figure surnamed He, found out that his name and portraits appeared in the app as an AI companion, and that the role was open to public users through the defendant’s algorithm application, which led to the uploading of a great number of emojis of the plaintiff as a source of interaction content. Believing that the defendant infringed upon his rights to his name, portrait and general personality, He sued the defendant at the BIC, seeking an apology and compensation for economic losses and mental stress.
Details of the judgment:
At trail, the BIC determined that the app designed by the defendant allowed online users to use the plaintiff’s name and portraits to create a virtual character which was a caricature of the plaintiff. The behavior constituted using the general personality image of the plaintiff including his name and images. Meanwhile, the app’s design allowed users to have real interactive experiences with the plaintiff, which involved personal freedom and dignity of a natural person. Although the defendant did not upload the specific graphics and texts, its product design and algorithm application encouraged and facilitated the users’ uploading behaviors in deed, and directly lead to the realization of the core function of the app. Thus, the defendant was no longer a neutral technology service provider but a content service provide thatshould bear tort liability. The BIC concluded that the defendant used the plaintiff’s name and portrait without authorization and set the system functions involving the plaintiff’s personal freedom and dignity, which constituted an infringement of the plaintiff’s rights to name, portrait and general personality. Therefore, the defendant was ordered to apologize to the plaintiff and compensate him in damages.
With the further innovation of the internet industry models in the post-pandemic era and the continuous development of new technologies such as virtual reality, applications virtualizing natural persons’ personalities are on the rise.
This case establishes that natural persons’ personality rights also apply to their virtual images. It is also a good exploration of the evaluation standard for algorithm applications, and is thus of great significance in strengthening the protection of personality rights in the era of artificial intelligence.