While U.S.-based search giant Google has seen its fair share of litigation, its Chinese counterpart Baidu has not seen nearly as much litigation despite rampant copying in the Chinese online video industry. However, a group of Chinese Internet and film companies are moving to hit Baidu where it hurts: in the wallet.
The group of companies filed suit alleging video piracy against Baidu Inc. in courts around China on Nov. 13, according to a spokesman from Youku Tudou Inc. The companies seek 300 million yuan ($48.9 million) in damages.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the accusations center on four different services that Baidu offers on computers and smartphones, which the group claims allows users to access content licensed to other companies. The group also claims that Baidu also links to websites that host pirated content.
Baidu told the WSJ in a statement that it “has always attached high importance to the problem of protecting copyrights in the online video industry.” The company also claims to have an automatic filter to keep out pirated content, as well as 24-hour staff that works to prevent Internet piracy.
However, this type of suit would not be without precedent for Baidu. In September 2012, three writers won a copyright suit against the search giant after a Chinese court ruled that the company failed to prevent the writers’ works from being illegally posted on its document sharing site. However, the writers were only awarded 145,000 yuan ($22,900) in damages, significantly less than the 760,000 yuan ($120,280) they originally sought.
The WSJ says that this case shows the maturation of the Chinese online video industry, one that has radically transformed over the past couple of years. Websites such as Sohu.com now pay millions for the right to host Western television shows and movies. However, that also places them at the forefront of the fight against piracy, hoping to keep their copyright.
“We cannot keep competing because where thieves and robbers are having their way, law-abiding companies cannot survive,” Sohu Chairman Charles Zhang said at a Nov. 13 media event.
Correction: The Motion Picture Association of America is not a party to this suit, as was originally reported.