50 Authors Sued Baidu

As China’s native search engine giant, Baidu was lately pushed to the teeth of the storm again because of the “suspected piracy of Baidu Wenku”.

Baidu has summited its reform plan to the Department of Copyright Administration (DCA). Right now, the Beijing Municipal Copyright Bureau (BMCB) is entrusted to do the further investigation. The DCA will investigate and handle it by law if there are any violations of law or regulations,” Deputy Chief Wang Zhicheng from the DCA of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) expressed in an interview. This was the first time for a relevant GAPP official to comment on this issue since 50 writers have accused Baidu of copyright infringement on March 15th.

Regarding GAPP official’s comment, Yang Haijun, Baidu’s spokesman declined to give any comments.

On the other side, journalists got information that, in an inner meeting that just concluded, the copyright protection team formed a “Publishing World Anti-Baidu Infringement Coalition”. The meeting appointed 7 representatives and a consultant team as its negotiation team against Baidu. Principle members includes Zhang Hongbo, deputy director general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, Shen Haobo, president of Mo Tie Company, Hua Nan, chairman of Beijing Dook Book Co, and Lu Jinbo , general president of Wanrong Book Co, ltd. In addition, they will also appoint 3 to 4 authors as negotiation representatives.

It is said that if everything goes well, the negotiation with Baidu that originally planed to start around Qingming Holiday will be shifted to an earlier date. May be this week at the earliest.

GAPP Start Investigation on Baidu

On March 15, around 50 authors and publishers including the Four Bo of Publishing World, namely Shen Haobo, Lu Jinbo, Li Bo and Zhang Xiaobo, and authors Han Han, Guo Jingming, Jia Ping’ao, Li Yongpeng and Mai Jia, issued “a Letter About Chinese Authors Accusing Baidu on 3•15″, which has been spreaded on Sina Microblog. The 50 authors called for all authors to join in the lawsuit against Baidu. This issue has been called the “50 Authors’ Copyright Protection ” by outsiders.

The Letter said that Baidu Wenku of Baidu.com provides free download links for copyrighted publications, which harms China’s original cultural products. “If it doesn’t stop, there would be no books to read in the future.” It also mentioned Baidu’s providing of free music download links which “directly caused the shrink of recording industry.”

Two days later, Shen Haobo expressed on his microblog that he has, together with musician Gao Xiaosong, met Baidu officials, and they appointed to have a formal talk with representatives from music and literature world before Qingming Holiday.

Zhang Hongbo revealed that the party of CWWCS, Mo Tie Book Company and 50 authors will select out representatives for negotiation that night and confirm its specific time and basic principles. These representatives will have a final discussion with Baidu on solutions of copyright infringement on net literature.

Zhang Hongbo said that the first and premier aim of this negotiation is to protect authors’ copyright, and then to solve Baidu’s copyright infringement radically. “The bottom line will never be changed”. The last one is the compensation issue.

It is reported that early as before the authors’ copyright protection, the GAPP had already took actions. Wang Zhicheng indicates that since the launching of “Sword-net Action”, DCA has received a lot of reports and complains on Baidu’s infringement behaviour, which arose great attention from GAPP. DCA appointed a formal meeting with Baidu in the end of this Feburary and ordered Baidu to submitted a reform plan. In the early March, Baidu has followed the requirement and submitted the plan.

“We have appointed the BMCB to do the further investigation”, Wang Zhicheng expressed that DCA absolutely stands behind copyright holders including authors in their rights protection. DCA also calls on and encourages publication users including companies not to abuse the “Online Fair Use Priciple”. “We will pay much attention on big companies like Baidu as well as the development of this copyright protection issue.”

In Wang’s point of view, no matter the company is big or small, as long as they violates laws or regulations, DCA will investigate and handle it by law.

The “Online Fair Use Principle” in this Dispute

To the understanding of Financial Daily, Baidu released a “documents sharing platform” in Baidu Zhidao in November, 2009. In December that year, this platform changed its name to “Baidu Wenku”. It established a “point accumulating system”. By uploading documents, users can get certain virtual points as reward. During downloading, free documents could be downloaded after logging in, but as for the documents that marked point prices could only be downloaded with the payment of some points. Currently, Baidu Wenku has stockpiled over 200 million documents.

Regarding the “50 Authors’ Copyright Protection” issue, Baidu responded to the media before that “Baidu sees highly of intellectual property rights protection in the Internet field, and has promised since the birthday of Baidu Wenku that authors or copyright holders can report problematic content found on Baidu Library to the complaint centre (http:/tousu.baidu.com/wenku), Baidu will delete infringing content within 48 hours. Till now, Baidu has received and deleted tens of thousands of infringing items uploaded by web users.”

The excuse Baidu use in the response is the famous “Online Fair Use Principle”. Relevant materials show that the Principle indicates the “Regulations on Dissemination of Copyright Material over Information Networks” implemented on July 1st, 2006. It requires online storage or search providers to sever links to infringing materials upon notification from rights holders, but does not make the providers legally liable.

In light of Baidu’s explaination, Wang Zhicheng believes that Baidu does not fall under this principle. He said that from the web pages of Baidu Wenku, we could find its edition, modification and selection on the search and link results. According to related regulations, once the website has these activities, it could not apply the Principle any more.

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