Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is Baidu doing the right thing on intellectual property rights?

Image representing Baidu as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
A class action by 40 Chinese writers against China's leading search engine Baidu for infringement of their copyright attracted my attention for a whole set of reasons. Here is the AFP-report about the issue.

First, Baidu has for ages been accused of not minding any intellectual property rights and gaining in that way an unfair advantage on competitors, especially competitors like Google, who claims they stick to international practices to protect IPR. They were recently even put on a blacklist by the US government.

Second, - and you should see the next two also as disclosures - Baidu's quoted spokesperson Kaiser Kuo is also a speaker at my China Speakers Bureau, so it would be interesting to see his position, in an issue where he has been writing about as journalist an commentator in the past.

Third, I'm currently finishing a book on the Hypergrid Business, virtual worlds and their meaning for businesses, and my co-author Maria Korovov has just been writing some smart stuff on what online companies should do to avoid liability in this field. Not surprisingly, intellectual property rights is a key issue for companies going online.

From AFP:
More than 40 writers, including controversial blogger Han Han, have signed a letter claiming Baidu provided their works for free to download on its online library Baidu Wenku without their permission.

"Baidu has become a totally corrupt thief company," the authors said in the letter posted Tuesday on the website of government-linked China Written Works Copyright Society.

"It stole our works, our rights, our property and has turned Baidu Wenku into a marketplace of stolen goods," it said.
What is Kaiser's answer, again according to AFP?
Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo said the search engine "attaches great importance to intellectual property rights protection" and had deleted "tens of thousands of infringing items" uploaded by web users.

"We promised that authors or copyright holders can report problematic content found on Baidu Library to the complaint centre ... and we will delete infringing content within 48 hours," Kuo said in a statement Wednesday.

In a disclaimer on its website, Baidu said users who uploaded the files must take on all liabilities and be responsible for compensation in any copyright disputes.
The writers say this is nonsense, and they claim Baidu should take responsibility. They want Baidu to ask permission for publication in advance. But when we read Maria Korolov's recent piece on how to deal with intellectual property rights, we see Baidu is on the right side (apologies for the hypergrid jargon):
But larger grids, such as OSGrid, InWorldz, and SpotOn3D have the same problem as Facebook — though not necessarily on the same scale. Yet.

As a result, they have copyright policies in place and have posted contact information for copyright infringement complaints.

What happens if a grid posts a policy — and then ignores all takedown requests? By not following its own policy, the grid will lose its status as a “safe haven” and can become subject to lawsuits.

InWorldz, one of the most popular commercial OpenSim grids, has filed a designated agent form with the U.S. Copyright Officea PDF which you can see here. It names Beth Reischl as the designated agent, and the contact email for DMCA complaints is InWorldz was the first OpenSim grid to officially register in this way — a sign of its commitment to copyright protection. As a result of this and other measures, it became a popular destination for virtual goods merchants and has grown quickly over the past few months.

Another commercial grid, SpotOn3D, has also filed its designated agent form. The grid is owned by PowerSynch LLC, and its designated agent is Stevan Lieberman, one of the founders of the grid. The contact email address is

Many grids haven’t filed a designated agent form, but do have policies posted on their websites.

The OSGrid has a nice page up for DMCA violations, which you can see here. OSGrid has an email address set aside for these complaints, Ansky Grid has a similar DMCA policy in place, and complaints should go to
In short: you cannot blame online publishers like Baidu for all infringements of intellectual property, but they should have procedures in place and act fast if they get complaints. That is the line in the US, and seems pretty reasonable to me. Maybe others can chip in on the Chinese legal system, but Baidu seems to stick to international accepted procedures.
(Earlier published at the Fons Tuinstra's home.)
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