In 2008, Baidu was sued for around $9 million by Sony BMG, Universal Music and Warner Music for providing so-called “deep-links” to copyright music tracks. A court has now ruled that providing search results does not breach copyright law, clearing China’s biggest search engine of wrong-doing.
Search engine Baidu.com is not only China’s biggest, but also a major player globally. It recently grabbed headlines when it was hacked by the ‘Iranian cyber army’, the same outfit that took Twitter offline in December.
Baidu has become increasingly popular with the Chinese population for its MP3 indexing abilities. While its “MP3 Search” provides algorithm-generated links to millions of undoubtedly illicit copyright tracks hosted by others (so-called “deep-linking”), Baidu has always insisted that the provision of such links alone is entirely legal. Needless to say, IFPI, the global music group, disagrees strongly with this assertion.
“The music industry in China wants partnership with the technology companies – but you cannot build partnership on the basis of systemic theft of copyrighted music and that is why we have been forced to take further actions,” said John Kennedy, Chairman and Chief Executive of IFPI, in a February 2008 statement.
Bolstered by an earlier ruling against Yahoo China, by further actions Kennedy unsurprisingly meant “legal actions.” In early 2008, IFPI (Sony BMG, Universal Music and Warner Music) sued Baidu.com for $9m. Today the result of that case has been made public.
Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court has cleared Baidu on accusations of copyright infringement, with a court statement showing that simply providing search results does not breach Chinese copyright law. According to lawyer Sun Yan, the case against the search giant fell because IFPI failed to identify the actual sites hosting the illegal music downloads.
IFPI has challenged Baidu – and lost – in the Beijing No.1 Intermediate Court before. In September 2005, IFPI filed claims regarding nearly 200 music tracks it claimed were made available via Baidu. In 2006, the Court ruled Baidu was not infringing copyright. IFPI appealed to the Beijing Higher People’s Court which upheld the earlier ruling.