Chinese search provider Baidu has cracked down on pirated material in response to author complaints about copyright infringement. This move comes as Western countries continue to press China to clamp down on Websites that distribute music, movies and intellectual property.
Operating China's largest search engine, Baidu removed 2.8 million items for its online library after authors complained it was distributing their work without permission, according to the Associated Press. The offending items were on Baidu Wenku - a document-sharing service.
Baidu executives plan to discuss possible arrangements with the authors on how to distribute their works and share revenues. The company has been in ongoing negotiations with authors, according to the March 30 report.
"We really hope our actions will go far to assuage them and will form a foundation for us to have fruitful talks about ways to cooperate," Kaiser Kuo, a Baidu spokesperson, told AP.
If Baidu is unable to resolve the dispute, the document-sharing service would be shut down, the company's CEO Robin Li announced at an Internet conference on March 28. Baidu Wenku was launched in 2009 and allowed users to read, share or download texts for free.
Publishers have long complained Baidu facilitates the distribution of unlicensed material by linking to pirate sites that carry unauthorized copies. A group of more than 40 prominent Chinese authors posted an online petition on March 15 accusing Baidu for having "deteriorated into a burglar company that stole our property and stole our rights," according to the AP.
The 2.8 million items were on Baidu Library's "literary works" section, but about 1,000 others remain. Kuo said the remaining items are properly licensed. Kuo claimed it took "three solid days working 'round-the-clock" to remove the illegal files.
In the petition, authors demanded Baidu immediately remove all infringing content, check all content for infringement before allowing documents to be published, issue an official apology and compensate writers 2.5 yuan per download for previous downloads of unlicensed copies of their books.
Baidu will also launch a new system in May to screen material being linked to the Baidu Library and prevent copyrighted works from being uploaded. Right now, all uploads to the "literary works" section is "being carefully vetted," Kuo said.
It remains to be seen whether Baidu will be able to keep illegal copies off Wenku, and whether the company will compensate publishers and authors for previous downloads. Users who upload the files are responsible for compensation in any copyright issues, according to a disclaimer posted on Baidu Library.
Piracy is a big problem in China, with music and books being distributed freely. In its Feb. 28 report, the United States Trade Representative's office identified 33 Websites and public markets in China, Russia, India and other countries on its list of "Notorious Markets" linked to piracy and counterfeiting. Baidu was on the list, as was B2B portal Taobao, TV Ants service for watching sporting events for free online, and smartphone app market 91.com.
Baidu publishes top-song charts on its popular MP3 search service that include links to unlicensed sources of music files. The search company has denied accusations of copyright infringement from the international music industry, claiming that as the search engine doesn't actually host the MP3 files, it can't be held responsible.
Users directly upload files on to Baidu Library, which made the document sharing service different from the MP3 search service.
"We appealed Baidu to curb and correct their infringing activities. If they did so, we welcome it," said Yang Chengzhi, Communist Party secretary of the China Writers' Association.
Baidu commands more than 75 percent of China's search market, with Google in second place with a mere 20 percent. Baidu recently launched a series of new services to increase its offerings and extend its brand.