Baidu, China’s largest search engine, has signed a formal agreement with the United Kingdom regarding its attitude towards intellectual property.
There are no clear details of the new Memorandum Of Understanding about IP infringement, except that the signing was witnessed by Dr Ros Lynch, Director of Copyright and Enforcement at the UK Intellectual Property Office, who is currently in China to promote UK-China copyright week. The MoU concerns ‘Copyright Protection Collaboration’.
The signatories were not named in the UK government announcement, but according to the very pixelated image associated with the release (see image right), it would appear that the signer on the left is Baidu president Ya-Qin Zhang; his associate could be Robin Li, Baidu’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, though it is hard to distinguish from the image.
Though a formal agreement, an MoU is not legally binding. However the event is not a random act of goodwill or general corporate promotion, as Baidu has been perceived as one of the major forces in China’s historically rampant culture of piracy, with complaints and lawsuits flying towards it on the issue both at home and abroad.
In 2013 Tencent Holdings and Sohu.Com Inc led a consortium of internet firms, in combination with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), to seek 300 million yuan ($49.2 million) from Baidu and QVOD in compensation for alleged re-streaming of copyrighted content. At the time Sohu’s CEO Charles Zhang commented “We can’t continue to compete in the situation because law-abiding people can’t survive in a place where robbers and thieves rampage.”
In 2005 Warner Music Group joined Universal Music Group and EMI Group in the filing of suits against Baidu in Beijing for providing facile links to copyrighted music. Progress in the case was slow, but early in 2011 the U.S. put Baidu on a list of ‘notorious markets’ for counterfeit and pirated goods; it removed the ban at the end of the year, after the search company reached settlement with the Group.
There is a certain amount of perceived hypocrisy regarding internecine IP-enforcement suits in China; in October of 2013 China’s Future TV, co-owned between the state and Tencent holdings, the nation’s largest internet entity, was involved in the uploading of swathes of copyrighted video material, though promising that it would negotiate licensing deals later. And of course Tencent has itself been a litigant against Baidu.
The newly-signed MoU is between Baidu and the International Publishers Copyright Coalition (IPCC). Alibaba signed a similar MoU last June.