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A Lesson From the Qvod Case
 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 18, 2016


Four executives of Chinese video-sharing site Qvod Technology Co. Ltd. stood trial at the Haidian District People's Court in Beijing on January 7-8 on charges of profiting from spreading pornographic content online. The trial lasted 20 hours and was broadcast live on the Internet. The live broadcast of court trials has occurred previously in China but never with this degree of openness.

According to a report by national broadcaster China Central Television, Qvod had up to 500 million active users in the latter half of 2013 and was the largest service provider of its kind in China in terms of users and activity. In April 2014, the company shut down its service after it was fined 260 million yuan ($39.52 million) for copyright violations.

The trial has triggered heated online debates. Many Internet users were impressed with Qvod CEO Wang Xin's self-defense and testimony. Wang argued that his company was not a content provider, and that its platform had been abused by its users. The court has not yet issued its ruling.

Two leading Chinese media organizations made divergent comments on the case. The People's Daily , one of the country's most widely circulated newspapers, published an article entitled "However Wonderful, Qvod's Argument Is Not Worth Applauding." Xinhua News Agency, however, published a commentary entitled "The Right of Defense Should Be Applauded No Matter If Qvod Is Guilty or Not."

The intense attention drawn to the case should be attributed to the website's large user base, the openness of court proceedings and the technology which has enabled the popular dissemination of live broadcasts online. The live broadcast of the trial turned it into a spectacle of legal action, in which online viewers could see the court system operate directly, and experience procedural justice. Internet users and judicial staff have also learned about the importance of respecting the right of defense and ensuring that the protocols of justice are followed.

As the Xinhua commentary said, the defendants' lawful right to defense should not be restricted or removed by any judicial department. Though the representatives of the law may not be swayed by the arguments of the defendant or the lawyers, they should respect and guarantee a person's right to defense. It is a necessary component of the rule of law.

The Internet is changing our lives profoundly. Similar Internet-related lawsuits are likely to increase in the future. The Qvod case has thrown light on how to avoid legal and moral risks brought about by technological innovation. While the technology is not to blame, Internet companies should be mindful to obey the law and follow moral decency.

In the Qvod case, Wang and his defense attorneys used a knife as a metaphor for their case. They argued that when a knife is used to kill someone, the person who sold the knife should not be blamed for the murder. Nonetheless, their argument is not irreproachable. Should the individual selling the knife have knowledge that it could be used for harm, it is logical that steps be taken to terminate the deal or mitigate the potential negative outcomes. It might not have been Qvod's intention to spread pornography, but it inadvertently provided channels for its users to gain illicit videos. If Internet technologies fail to be brought under adequate control, pornography will become increasingly prevalent online.

The case also highlights the inadequate laws and regulations governing the cyberspace, which urgently need to be improved in order to stave off potential online chaos.

It is expected that the Qvod case will serve as a warning to the users of the rapidly developing Internet technology, as well as lead to an improvement of the Internet's regulation.

Copyedited by Calvin Palmer 

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