Explaining the Legal Response to Rights Infringement and Defamation to the 'Person Inside' a VTuber
While YouTubers have been popular for quite some time, VTubers are also gaining popularity among a wide range of audiences. However, as the number of viewers increases and their popularity heats up, there has been a rise in defamation against VTubers, malicious posts, and actions such as revealing the profile of the ‘person inside’ who has not been disclosed by the individual themselves.
So, what kind of legal responses are possible against defamation and privacy infringement towards VTubers?
Special Characteristics of VTubers and Infringement of Rights
Due to their unique and novel existence, which is different from both humans (natural persons) and anime personalities, the infringement of rights against VTubers (Virtual YouTubers) may be unique.
When slandering a YouTuber who uses a handle name, the legal treatment is the same as for a celebrity who uses a stage name. Even if no one knows the real name of a celebrity who works under a stage name, it is still considered slander against that person. Similarly, if a YouTuber with the handle name A operates without disclosing their real name, it is considered slander against A, even if no one knows A’s real name. This is because it can be specified as “being A”.
On the other hand, the issue with VTubers is this specificity. In the case of VTubers, there may be many people involved, such as “the person who sets up the personality”, “the person who creates the avatar”, “the person who moves the avatar”, and “the voice actor”. Therefore, if a VTuber named B is slandered, there may be cases where it is not clear who the slander is against. This could potentially make it difficult to question the infringement of rights.
VTubers and Infringement of Honor and Emotion
Even for VTubers, there have been cases where infringement of honor and emotion was recognized because the “person inside” is identifiable and can be the target of slander.
A VTuber, who belongs to an entertainment production company and posts videos of a fictional CG personality named “B” with their own voice, claimed that their rights were infringed by multiple posts on 5chan. To exercise the right to claim damages against the poster, they requested the disclosure of the poster’s sender information from the provider involved in the post.
The content of each post in this case was critical of an episode where the plaintiff, as “B”, could not finish a meal provided at a restaurant and left it unfinished. Among them, posts that criticized “B”‘s actions by linking them to the plaintiff’s upbringing, such as “because they are from a single-parent family”, “because they are an orphan”, “because they have no mother”, became an issue.
The plaintiff argued that each of the problematic posts pointed out matters of private life that the plaintiff, who was raised in a single-parent family, did not want to disclose to third parties, thereby infringing on the plaintiff’s right to privacy. In addition, they argued that after pointing out such upbringing environment of the plaintiff, the posts unfairly insulted the plaintiff and infringed on their honor and emotion, based on prejudice and discriminatory thoughts, beyond the social tolerance limit.
In response, the defendant, the provider, focused on the uniqueness of VTubers and argued against the infringement of rights.
Generally, the CG personalitys used by VTubers are said to be handled by multiple people behind the scenes, each with their own personality and abilities, including design, dance, singing, voice acting, and other features, and video editing is also handled by different people. Therefore, it is difficult to reduce the personality to a specific human personality, and it is not possible to consider the personality “B” in this case as the plaintiff.
Furthermore, the general viewers of the thread where the posts in question were posted have no knowledge of the existence, personality, or identity of the plaintiff in relation to VTuber “B”. Therefore, the subject mentioned in each post is “B”, not the plaintiff.
Therefore, it cannot be clearly stated that the plaintiff’s rights are infringed by the description of “B” in each post.
Tokyo District Court, April 26, 2021 (Gregorian calendar year)
In response, the court stated,
- Although there are many VTubers belonging to the entertainment production company “a Production” where the plaintiff belongs, only the plaintiff is active as “B”.
- When “a Production” creates a VTuber personality, they create a personality that takes advantage of the talent’s personality after discussing with the talent who is scheduled to act as the personality.
- The voice in “B”‘s video distribution is the plaintiff’s real voice.
- The movement of the CG personality reflects the plaintiff’s movement by motion capture.
- The video distribution and SNS posts as “B” are not fictional content based on the personality setting, but content about events in the real life of the person playing the personality.
Based on these points, the court stated that the activities of VTuber “B” reflect the plaintiff’s personality, not just a CG personality, and the subject mentioned in each post is the plaintiff.
Upon examining the infringement of rights, the court stated,
While it is a fact that the plaintiff is from a single-parent family, it is recognized that there is no personality setting for “B” that they do not have a mother. Under such circumstances, the posts in question, which criticize the plaintiff by linking them to their upbringing environment, are different from content that criticizes mere manners violations, and should be considered as clearly infringing on their honor and emotion by insulting the plaintiff beyond the limit allowed by social norms.
The court ruled that the infringement of honor and emotion is clear without having to judge the invasion of privacy, and ordered the provider to disclose the poster’s sender information.
Even in VTuber activities where multiple people are involved as a team, if it can be determined who the slander is directed at, there is a possibility that infringement of rights can be recognized.
This is also the case with the infringement of the right to honor, and in March 2022, the court recognized defamation against a VTuber and ordered the provider to disclose the poster’s sender information.
VTubers and Privacy Infringement
VTuber Requests Disclosure of Sender Information
There was a case where a VTuber, “C”, who is active as part of a female VTuber idol group, requested the disclosure of the sender’s information from the intermediary provider, claiming that her privacy had been violated. This was in response to an incident where someone posted a slightly blurred photo of the plaintiff on a fan thread, suggesting that the person in the photo (the plaintiff) was the “person inside” C. When the link was clicked, a photo that the plaintiff had posted on her own SNS account, which had nothing to do with C’s activities, was displayed.
Intermediary Provider’s Argument
The defendant, the intermediary provider, argued that it was widely known on the internet that the “person inside” C was the broadcaster “D” on Nico Nico Live Broadcast, and that his face photo could easily be obtained online. Therefore, they claimed that the information about the plaintiff was not considered to be information that the individual did not want to be disclosed to third parties, and did not meet the requirements for privacy infringement.
Furthermore, they argued that if the personality is the main body of the VTuber and it is not clear who the human being behind the personality is, the actions against the personality should not be considered as targeting the human being. Therefore, even if the personality’s personality rights are violated, it should not be a problem for the human being.
Tokyo District Court, June 8, 2021 (2021)
They argued the uniqueness of rights infringement against VTubers.
In response, the court focused on the fact that the plaintiff, who is exclusively active as the VTuber “C”, has not disclosed her information to the public in a way that links her profile with “C”. This is due to the minimum compliance items set between her and her agency, such as the prohibition of her activities as an individual in real life.
Considering that there are entertainers who perform without revealing their actual faces by using costumes, masks, or veils, it is possible for VTubers, who perform similar activities, to have a strategy of not revealing their actual faces or personal information to protect the image of their personalitys as VTubers. Therefore, it is fully conceivable that the plaintiff did not want the image in question to be disclosed to the public. Moreover, in this case, as confirmed above, there was no evidence that the plaintiff had actively disclosed that she was “C”, and it was prohibited to act as an individual in real life between her and her agency. Therefore, it was recognized that the plaintiff did not want the image in question to be disclosed.
Same as above
As a result, the court recognized the privacy infringement and ordered the intermediary provider to disclose the sender’s information of the post.
Furthermore, the court stated that even if the image in question had been publicly disclosed on SNS by the plaintiff herself in the past, or even if it had been publicly disclosed on the internet by someone else as referring to “C”, it is clear that the plaintiff did not want the image to be newly disclosed or spread to the public as indicating the identity with “C”. Therefore, the act of posting the image in question constitutes a privacy infringement.
Even if you argue that you were just part of a group trying to identify others, you cannot escape responsibility.
Summary: Legal Response to Rights Infringement and Defamation to the Vtuber
Infringement of rights against VTubers can be resolved by analogy with general cases, provided that the target can be identified.
However, issues remain in cases where multiple people are involved and the target cannot be identified, and further discussion is awaited.
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Monolith Law Office is a legal office with high expertise in both IT, particularly the internet, and law. In recent years, overlooking information related to reputational damage and slander spread on the internet can lead to serious harm. Our firm provides solutions for managing reputational damage and online crises.