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Online notaries are convenient, but law lags

Updated: 2013-12-31 07:05
By Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily)

The emergence of online notarization has brought new hope for deterring Internet infringements, but the fledgling service also urgently needs improved supervision , experts said.

In early November, an expectant mother surnamed Yang in Jiangsu province was intimidated by an online shop owner for giving the store a negative rating after receiving poor quality products that varied considerably from the online description and photos. But neither the trading records nor the owner's threatening words on her computer were legally admissible as evidence because of the alterable nature of digital files, according to multiple media sources.

Yang is not alone as the popularity of the Internet has allowed e-shopping swindles, online slander and piracy to infringe on the intellectual property rights not only of enterprises but also individuals.

The lack of valid and accessible forensic methods for ordinary people in the digital era is an issue, but the rise of third-party online notaries may help improve the situation, pundits said.

"Conventional notarizing requires applicants to present evidence at a real office and takes time and travel expenses," said Feng Xiaoqing, an intellectual property rights professor at the China Institute of Political Science and Law.

"The new technology provides a convenient new means for the public but the relevant regulations lag behind, so the legal effect of third-party notarized documents remains questionable."

Meiya Pico, a Fujian-based digital forensics provider, launched its electronic notarizing app, the CunNar, for Android and Apple systems last year and has seen the service play a pivotal role in solving online IPR disputes.

Users of the app can upload more than 20 kinds of documents including voice and transaction records into a third-party database through a real-name system.

The company, which keeps client data encrypted and unalterable, provides certificates signed by official notaries testifying to the validity of the documents when customers need that as evidence for lawsuits.

"The service makes evidence collection and notarization as easy as possible for people and meets the demand on the Internet," said Liu Xiangnan, chairman of the board of Meiya Pico.

The service has attracted more than 3.7 million registered users and currently provides digital forensics for more than 100 brands.

Citing increasing online infringement cases involving IPR, Liu said he envisioned a digital reform of the traditional notary service soon.

The total annual amount of online trading reached 8.7 trillion yuan ($1.4 trillion) in 2013 and there were more than 60,000 civil cases related to e-commerce and IPR, according to a review released by State Intellectual Property Office.

The increasing demand for more efficient notarization has brought pressure on the country's traditional notary system, which employs more than 20,000 notaries at more than 3,000 offices, according to the according to the China Notary Association.

"In the current situation, rights holders have to visit local agencies to present digital documents, but some of the files might have been manipulated by violators when they are here and it's hard for us to tell if the documents presented are originals," Gong Nan, from Beijing Dongfang Notary Agency said. "So we are looking forward to the new-tech way", which utilizes digital forensics.

However, a lack of clear rules on regulating the emerging service and its legal impact remains a problem, Feng said.

"Issues such as how to monitor the third party's service, who should do so and whether the certificates it offers will be widely accepted should be discussed further," Feng said.

Yu Guofu, a Beijing lawyer specializing in online rights infringements, called for more innovations in the legal system to keep pace with the development of technology.

"The validity of evidence collected and notarized by a third party using the service is more effective than privately obtained data, but relevant rules and supervision mechanism have to be updated in advance," said Yu.

(China Daily 12/31/2013 page5)