Live-Streaming Platform Used for Illegal Sale of Gyrocopters
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2017-06-13 12:15:19

There’s no shortage of self-promoters and entrepreneurs among China’s hordes of webcam-loving live-streamers. Recently, unlicensed sellers of personal aircraft have taken to popular live-streaming app Kuaishou to attract buyers for their build-it-yourself gyrocopters, The Beijing News reported Tuesday.

Posting videos of people assembling and flying their homemade contraptions, these accounts convincingly sell the magic of their gyrocopters — small one- or two-person aircraft that generate lift from an overhead rotor — but neglect to mention that they are not technically allowed to peddle such products.

In China, the procedure for legally obtaining a gyrocopter is complicated, Liu Zhiqing, a representative from German company AutoGyro, the world’s leading manufacturer of gyrocopters, told Sixth Tone. First, Liu explained, buyers must prove their products meet national standards to obtain a certificate of airworthiness from the country’s Civil Aviation Administration — a bureau that has recently shown little tolerance for civilian drones and the flight disruptions they can cause.

“Unless we’re talking about a very sophisticated engineer,” Liu said, “self-assembled gyrocopters that are not carefully inspected before their maiden flight are not safe.”

Unlicensed vendors advertise self-assembled gyrocopters on live-streaming app Kuaishou, raising safety and security concerns.

In one of several videos posted by a live-streamer called “Flying Major General” — whose Kuaishou account was blocked on Tuesday afternoon — two men are seen maneuvering a gyrocopter over the Great Wall, while a less majestic video of a stationary mechanical component has been viewed 210,000 times and received over 900 likes.

“Currently, market potential for gyrocopters is huge in China,” Liu added. So, too, is market demand for live-streaming.

Founded in March 2011, Kuaishou has gradually expanded its market share and appeal to investors. According to data on the company’s official website, it now has 500 million registered users. In March, it secured a fifth round of financing amounting to $350 million from a group of investors led by internet giant Tencent.

Kuaishou posted an announcement to its Weibo microblog account on Tuesday in which it addressed users selling unlicensed gyrocopters. “Although we encourage creativity and the ‘Made in China’ spirit,” the statement read, “building these kinds of crafts will only be permitted if done in accordance with the law.”

“We have opened an investigation into certain users,” a Kuaishou representative who declined to be named told Sixth Tone. “However, considering the complicated situation, more time is needed. We have gathered relevant evidence and will collaborate fully with the government’s investigation.”

As part of a prospering but still-nascent industry, China’s live-streaming platforms often find themselves in legal gray areas not yet addressed by government regulations, though the relevant departments are scrambling to catch up.

“The videos on Kuaishou can be used as evidence to allow police to take action against illegal gyrocopter sellers,” Diao Weimin, a visiting professor at McGill University’s Centre for Research in Air and Space Law in Montreal, told Sixth Tone. “However, it is difficult for government organizations to work proactively to eliminate such offenses. Nothing is considered small when it comes to public safety.”

In March, the tax bureau of Beijing asked for 60 million yuan ($8.8 million) in back taxes from an unnamed live-streaming platform that had not declared income from virtual gifts sent by fans to their favorite broadcasters. And in May, the Ministry of Culture penalized 48 live-streaming platforms for content deemed “vulgar, obscene, violent, [or] superstitious.” Ten were shut down completely.

Clarification: A gyrocopter generates lift from an overhead rotor but is powered by a rear propeller.

Contributions: David Paulk; editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A gyrocopter appears in the profile photos of Kuaishou user Flying Major General.)