China may be wising up to international condemnation of its lax copyright protection standards, as the Ministry of Culture has revealed it will "punish" local search giant Baidu for facilitating illegal music downloads.
Baidu is in the crosshairs of The Ministry of Culture, according to official state-sanctioned news agency Xinhua. Along with 13 other local websites, China's top search engine has been mentioned as a repeat offender for offering illegal downloads of pirated music files through its official site. It seems like a bigger move than a similar case last year when the site was found guilty of the same crime, and fined a grand total of $8,000.
The case in 2010 centered on just 50 specific tracks and was about lyric republishing rather than piracy, which could suggest the Ministry of Culture has a far bigger castigation in mind this time—the warning language seems terse with an official reporting that Baidu had been repeatedly warned for linking to offending files, but still continued to do so.
The company spoke in its own defense, noting it's "aware that songs require approval" and that it's "sought to comply with previous notifications form the Ministry of Culture," but the difficulty is that "search engine indexing is a continuous process and some files may have reappeared in results." It's a plausible defense to some extent, although Western search giant Google has developed its algorithms to the point it can self-censor "offensive" content form even it's real-time search system—it's possible that similar techniques could be used to live-censor illegal files. Baidu could act proactively to ensure it complies with the MoC demands, but it seems it's simply relying on waiting until it's pressured to do so.
Analysts suggest the Ministry of Culture's stern stance may damage Baidu's share price, even while we don't yet know the extent of the punishment, and that's actually quite an interesting turn up for the books. China is often accused of being among the worst offenders in the world in terms of rampant IP theft (and Baidu itself was recently named and shamed by the U.S. Trade Representative's Office) and yet the Culture Ministry is posturing to hit Baidu where it hurts Western-style, in its financial figures.
Baidu, independently, is due to reveal an official, legal, music portal soon.
[Image via Flickr user r3v||cls].