Apple’s Korean Office Paid Compensation to a South Korean User for iPhone Location Tracking – Does This Mean Korean Court Made an End to the Legal Turmoil?

It was reported that last month Apple’s South Korean office paid $945 of compensation to one of South Korean iPhone users for the breaching of privacy by the controversial iPhone user location tracking.  Here is the detail from Reuters.

By the way, some news media reported that this was a ruling from a Korean district court.  I, as a Korean lawyer, think that statement is half right and half wrong.  Basically it is true that the court issued a ruling which ordered the Apple Korea to pay $945 to the user.  But this was not a formal trial case, but a Request for a Payment Order case.  Payment order is a more convenient & simplified legal procedure for claimant to get a judgment from the court compared to a formal lawsuit.  Once a request filed, the Korean court does not question the debtor (in this case, the Apple Korea) and issue a Payment Order within 2 or 4 weeks (in certain courts, within a few days). This payment order, a sort of ruling, asks the opposing party to choose whether to admit the claim as written on the request or to make an objection.  If no objection has been raised from the opposing party within 2 weeks, then the Payment Order has the same effect as a final judgement.  If the debtor objects to it, then the court regards the request for a Payment Order as a filing lawsuit and initiates a formal trial procedures(hearings and handing down a decision).  Also recently most of request for a payment order cases are being handled by the court clerks, not by Korean judges.

So in this case, there was no court hearing nor ruling in a practical sense.  That is why we should not interpret this as an authentic reasoning and conclusion from the Korean court.  It’s just Apple Korea did not file an objection to the request within the time.  That’s all.  Interestingly, I have no idea why Apple Korea did not raise an objection to the request.  Eventually they paid the amount accordingly to the applicant, because 2 weeks of time having elapsed without objection, the payment order had become a judgment.  The Apple Korea had to respect and follow the judgment.  But this act of Apple Korea also resulted in many Korean iPhone users’ rally to prepare for similar legal actions.  Does this mean Apple Korea or Apple Inc. really admitted their legal liability in location tracking issue?  Or did they just miss the 2 weeks of objection period?  I can not tell you about this point, and we should not, because payment order has no legally binding effect over other similar iPhone location tracking cases.  It means that in the prospective legal actions from other class of Korean iPhone Users, Apple Korea can easily deny their liability with no restriction regardless of this case and, if they do, the Korean court will look into the case from the beginning and will provide their interpretation of law and the ruling finally.

© 2011 Mr. Wonil Chung, a Korean IP Lawyer, Chung & Partners, a Korean Law Firm. All rights reserved.


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