Chinese Search Engine Baidu Now Defender of Copyright Law

Since Baidu began creating and licensing content, the Chinese search engine titan has become focused on protecting copyright, a complete U-turn from the days when it was often accused of being a pipeline for pirated content. Among its newly licensed content are original shows from Netflix. Data from China’s Supreme People’s Court reveals that almost 87,000 copyright-related cases were filed in the country in 2016, a figure that is 15-times more than the cases filed ten years previously.

The Wall Street Journal notes that, “these cases include claims of illegal distribution, or unauthorized reproduction, of written content, videogames, movies and TV shows,” including 131 cases filed by Baidu’s own video streaming service, iQiyi.com, says IPHouse. The latter company, which licensed the Netflix content, also sent takedown notices to over 1,400 websites and apps, explained iQiyi senior director of legal affairs Wang Yan.

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“One of the old rationales for copyright protection … is that it provides an incentive to invest,” said Harris Bricken partner/entertainment lawyer Mathew Alderson. “We are seeing that in play here in China. Copyright is no longer something imposed on China by the U.S. It is now a tool in Chinese hands.” Not long ago, Hollywood and the music industry targeted Baidu with copyright infringement lawsuits, with Recording Industry Association of America former executive Neil Turkewitz stating that, “Baidu almost single-handedly eroded the value of music [in China].”

In 2008, Warner Music Group, Universal Music and Sony BMG Music Entertainment sued Baidu for copyright violations, and the International Federation of Phonographic Industry “estimated that record companies were receiving less than 5 percent of the estimated $700 million in potential annual revenues in China’s mobile music space.” Baidu inked a licensing deal with all three entities in 2011.

Baidu was also sued in 2013 by “a group of Chinese entertainment companies supported by the Motion Picture Association and major Hollywood studios,” and ended up paying “modest penalties.”

In 2016, however, Baidu spent more than $1 billion on content, including licensing deals with 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures. University of Oregon School of Law professor Eric Priest notes that, “For Hollywood studios, striking deals with Chinese partners is much easier than trying to defend their copyrighted content on their own.”

“If you’re a content producer with an office in Hollywood, you aren’t going to be familiar with where Chinese netizens are getting unlicensed content,” he said. “You won’t be familiar with the shadowy set-top manufacturers who are installing apps that people buy that allow direct access to unlicensed content. You’re going to be much better off with a partner in China that can do that.”