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Face-swapping app fined for infringements

China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-21


Beijing court penalizes AI operator for unauthorized use of two models' images

A face-swapping service provider was fined 3,500 yuan ($482) by a Beijing court on Thursday for infringing upon the personal information of two women through the use of artificial intelligence.

The app operator was also ordered to cease the infringement and apologize to the pair, according to the ruling announced by the Beijing Internet Court.

It was Beijing's first judgment on an infringement involving AI face-swapping software, said Sun Mingxi, a judge from the court.

She said the two women, both popular models for videos capturing the style of ancient China, separately turned to the court early last year after discovering their works were being used without permission by the same app as face-swapping templates that netizens could pay to use.

The plaintiffs said the app had infringed on their rights of portrait and personal data and asked the app operator, a Beijing technology company, to apologize and pay compensation, Sun said.

Considering that the women had similar claims and the defendant was the same, the court decided to combine the two lawsuits into one trial to improve judicial efficiency and save legal costs.

During the trial on Thursday, the plaintiffs presented photos and videos of themselves that have been widely circulated online. In the videos, they are dressed in traditional Chinese costumes, sport ancient hairstyles and wear classical makeup.

They also displayed templates on the app with the same clothing and hairstyles, but with their faces erased by AI so that netizens could replace them with their own faces.

"The app privately used videos containing my clients' portraits to create face-swapping templates, and even required others to pay to use the service for profit," said a lawyer representing both women. "The behaviors have damaged the clients' personal rights and interests."

The app operator argued that the videos used for face-swapping on its platform had legal sources and the images shown were not those of the plaintiffs, but it did not provide any evidence to the court.

After comparing the app templates and the videos provided by the plaintiffs, the court determined that the makeup, hairstyles, clothing, actions, lighting and camera angles in the templates were consistent with the videos.

However, Sun, the judge, clarified that the defendant did not infringe upon the two plaintiffs' right of portrait, "because the app, when providing face-swapping templates to others, had removed the faces of the two women instead of distorting, defaming or forging the facial content, so it didn't constitute an infringement", she explained.

"But in the process of applying AI to generate templates, the app operator illegally collected and used the videos containing the facial content of the two women, which had infringed on their personal data," she said. "Therefore, we've imposed the fine on the defendant."

Of the fine, 2,500 yuan is to cover economic losses of the two women, and 1,000 yuan is for their mental anguish, she said.

Sun added that it was a new kind of AI-related litigation, "and I hope the verdict will help regulate the application of the emerging technology and also promote the healthy development of the digital economy".