Are short video clips -- some of them no longer than 15 seconds -- protected under copyright laws?

That’s the question at the center of the first ever court case being heard at Beijing’s Internet Court, one of three in China dedicated to all kinds of disputes originating online.

The case was filed by the globally popular short video app TikTok, whose creator ByteDance is also behind China’s hottest news app Toutiao. It claims that a rival app from Baidu, called Huopai, lets users share and download short videos that TikTok holds exclusive rights to. It’s seeking compensation of more than US$143,000 for alleged copyright infringement.

TikTok (left) and Huopai (right) have very similar app layouts. (Pictures: TikTok and Huopai)

Here’s what happens when you file a lawsuit at an internet court in China.  

Filings are accepted electronically; evidence can also be submitted online. In TikTok and Baidu’s case, for example, the court accepted digital evidence stored on blockchain -- a first in the country’s video streaming industry.

Hearings are held via video calls, and transcriptions are done by software. Once the transcripts are ready, both parties can scan a QR code and sign their names digitally.

Three judges heard the case via video calls. (Picture: Beijing Internet Court)

China has been establishing internet courts to cope with the rapidly growing number of internet-related cases. From January to August, courts in Beijing handled more than 37,000 such cases -- a nearly 25 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

China’s first internet court opened in Hangzhou last year, while the second and third both opened in September this year in Beijing and Guangzhou.