Exposing other’s ID information online may lead to legal liability
Hanfu, a traditional Chinese style of clothing, is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese. Disputes related to hanfu are increasing as well.
The plaintiff Xiaohong and the defendant Xiaolan were both users of an online platform for hanfu culture communication. One day in 2020, Xiaohong found out that Xiaolan had posted multiple times on the platform criticizing Xiaohong's copying of other's in her hanfu costume designs with insulting words. Xiaolan also posted Xiaohong's name online, which caused cyber bullying against Xiaohong, causing her mental stress. Believing that Xiaolan infringed upon her rights to reputation, privacy and health, and that the platform had committed joint infringement by not deleting the contents in time, Xiaohong sued Xiaolan and the platform at the Beijing Internet Court (BIC), requesting an apology and compensation for economic losses and mental damages.
Xiaolan argued that Xiaohong's design of hanfu patterns copied others multiple times which Xiaohong admitted and apologized for. Putting Xiaohong's name online was only to alert other hanfu enthusiasts and to avoid future plagiarism. Xiaolan accessed Xiaohong's name via public information online, which did not constitute infringement.
The platform argued that it was only an online service provider. Xiaohong did not provide preliminary evidence about Xiaolan's infringement nor how she learned Xiaohong's real name. Neither did Xiaohong notify the platform to take actions such as deleting and blocking the related contents. So, the platform claimed it was not liable for the infringement.
After trial, the court concluded:
1. Xiaohong's personality rights were infringed.
(1) The evidence showed Xiaolan's accusations against Xiaohong about plagiarizing other's designs had a factual basis and thus did not constitute slandering. But Xiaolan's comments included insulting words like "copy dog" which lowered Xiaohong's social credit and infringed her right to reputation.
(2) The name of a natural person belongs to personal information, and private information in personal information is subject to the provisions on the right to privacy. In this case, Xiaolan arbitrarily disclosed Xiaohong’s name on the internet, which invaded the latter's private life and violated her right to privacy. Although Xiaohong's name had been disclosed already to a certain extent, there were further consequences from Xiaolan's disclosure. Therefore, Xiaolan's claim for liability exemption could not be supported.
(3) In this case, when Xiaohong made public statements expressing her fear of cyberbullying which caused severe depression and even suicidal thoughts, Xiaolan did not stop the sarcastic remarks and went on to reveal Xiaohong's name, which intensified the attacks. The evidence showed that those remarks aggravated Xiaohong's mental illness, resulted in serious consequences and violated her right to health.
2. The online service provider did not commit infringement.
The online platform was not aware of the infringing remarks and it did not have the capability or responsibility to proactively review such contents. In addition, Xiaohong did not notify the platform to take actions against the infringing remarks, but instead filed the lawsuit directly. Therefore, the platform was not liable for the infringement.
Details of the judgement:
The BIC ruled that Xiaolan should make an apology to Xiaohong for infringing upon her rights to reputation, privacy and health, and compensate her for expenses for medical care and transportation, as well as for mental damages. Both parties appealed after the judgement. The court of second instance upheld the original judgement which has now taken effect.
Tips from the judge:
Judge Zhao Changxin from the Beijing Internet Court. [Photo/ Beijing Internet Court]
For the purpose of pursuing fairness and justice, appropriate and reasonable use of personal information online reflects the positive role of public opinion supervision on cyberspace. However, unrestrained, irrational or even malicious use of personal information may cause cyberbullying and will pose serious threat to personal privacy and social order. That is why the Civil Code stipulates in Article 999, "The name, entity name, likeness, personal information, and the like, of a person of the civil law may be reasonably used by those engaged in news reporting, supervision of public opinions, or the like, for public interests, except that civil liability shall be borne in accordance with law where the use unreasonably harms the personality rights of the person.”
In this case, Xiaolan attacked Xiaohong's plagiarism be with insulting language and disclosed her name, which was beyond what was necessary to safeguard the public interest. Disclosing Xiaohong's real name connected the negative information with the real identity, resulting in infringement of Xiaohong's rights to reputation, privacy and health, thus Xiaolan should bear the liability for infringement.
Hanfu culture enthusiasts should rationally express their opinions, and correctly exercise their right to criticize and use the internet in a civilized and healthy way. Due respect should be given to other's work. As for online platforms for hanfu culture communication, they should enhance their ability to censor and handle posting of harmful information in a bid to cultivate a healthy and positive cyberspace culture.