Beijing court agrees to hear Baidu suit


BEIJING -- The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court has agreed to hear a copyright-infringement suit against web portal Baidu.

The suit was filed Feb. 4 by Universal Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment Hong Kong and Warner Music Hong Kong, the IFPI said today.

Citing the Beijing-based portal's practice of "deep-linking" to Web sites offering unauthorized music downloads, the labels are seeking damages totaling $9 million for infringing copyright on 127 music tracks, the maximum statutory compensation under Chinese law of 500,000 yuan ($71,352) per track.

"Baidu is China's largest violator of music copyrights, generating huge revenue by deliberately providing access to illegal content," said IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy in a statement. "The scale of what it is doing can be summed up by the fact that if the courts were to rule that Baidu should pay maximum statutory damages for all the infringing tracks available through its service, it would have to pay many billions of dollars in compensation."

On Dec. 20 last year, the same court found Baidu not guilty of copyright violation in a lawsuit that was filed by the IFPI in 2006. The court ruled that Baidu was not liable because the suit was filed prior to the July 2006 introduction of a set of streamlined regulations clarifying content and service providers' liability for the distribution of unauthorized content. The IFPI was subsequently successful in a 2007 case against Yahoo China, which was found guilty of facilitating mass copyright infringement due to the site's deep-linking options.

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court is also hearing a copyright-infringement case against Sogou, the music-delivery service operated by Beijing-based Sohu -- the official sponsor of Internet content service for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Bringing the action are Sony BMG Music Entertainment Hong Kong, Warner Music Hong Kong, Universal Music and Hong Kong-based Gold Label Entertainment. They are claiming maximum statutory damages totalling $7.5 million for 105 tracks.

Neither Baidu nor Sohu were available for comment at press time.