Writers to sue search giant Baidu

By Ren Zhongxi
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, December 9, 2010
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About 100 writers and publishers have decided to sue Baidu.com, China's largest online search engine, for violation of copyright.

Last month, 22 popular writers including Han Han, Dang Nian Ming Yue and Zhu Deyong, issued a statement criticizing the website. Simultaneously, a group of publishers, including Dangdang.com and Shanda Corporation, sued Baidu, demanding it delete unauthorized copies of their books. The China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS) supported them and called on other writers and publishers to support the action.

The plaintiffs also demanded that Baidu pay compensation for loss of earnings, and shut down wenku.baidu.com – the website that had published their works in violation of copyright.

"We tried to contact Baidu through various channels and told it we wanted our works to be deleted. But the company behaved badly. Sometimes it would ignore us and sometimes it would delete some works, but they reappeared online the next day. We have no choice but to sue," Nan Pai San Shu (San Shu), writer of the popular novel Grave Robber's Notebook, said. Publisher Shanda Corporation said they encountered similar problems.

Searching for San Shu's fiction on Baidu yields more than 1 million results, and Han Han's latest work 1988-I Want to Talk to the World yields about 300,000 results. San Shu stands to lose at least 500,000 yuan (US$75,000) due to unauthorized access to his books online, according to calculations made by netizens.

Publishers such as Shanda have been hit especially hard by Baidu. Readers pay to read books on Shanda, and the company then pays a share of the profits to authors. But if people can download and read the same works free of charge on Baidu, Shanda's business model is threatened.

A Baidu PR spokesperson maintained that since all the materials in question are uploaded by Internet users, Baidu is not responsible for any intellectual property infringements. Baidu deletes works when informed by authors, but cannot stop netizens reloading them, as Baidu is an open platform, the spokesperson said.

Lawyer Chen Liang said Baidu's explanation relied on the so-called "harbor principle." Websites should delete material that infringes copyright. But if the problematic content is not stored on their servers, and they are not informed what they should delete, they cannot be held responsible.

San Shu rejects Baidu's logic. "If 80 percent of the shops in a department store sell legal goods and the remaining 20 percent are selling drugs, would the store be cleared of responsibility? Baidu indulges its customers and gives room to pirates," he said. CWWCS also said Baidu was violating copyright, and said the company's behavior should be reported to the State Council which is conducting a special mission to combat counterfeiting and infringement of copyright.

Wang Bin, secretary general of the Copyright Union of the Internet Society of China, said China's present Copyright Law and Intellectual Property Law give no legal definition or explanation of online copyright. "So concrete problems will need concrete solutions in reality," Wang said.

Baidu said they would pay some advertisement revenue to writers and publishers in late November. But authors are skeptical. "This is unlikely to happen. If Baidu wants to share profits with us, why does it put so many pirated books online for free? Unlike companies that make money by selling books online, such as Amazon.com, Baidu relies on page views to generate revenue. So it can never delete these books completely. That's why we are calling for wenku.baidu.com to be closed down," San Shu said.

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