A recent lawsuit against a leading Chinese Internet search engine, for providing free music downloads, is uncovering the tip of the iceberg of online copyright infringement in China.
Industry insiders are demanding stronger action against violators, and calling for real steps to protect intellectual property rights.
Music downloading is one of the most popular services on the Internet in China, accounting for about 20 per cent of traffic for search engines like Baidu.com.
However, music producers are discovering that many of the songs played online are unauthorized.
Xu Chao, a senior official with the State Copyright Bureau says more and more disputes over music copyright have occurred recently.
"On the Internet, copyright infringement is quite common and a lot of disputes arise. If you use google to search for songs, over half of the websites providing downloads have infringement problems."
As the first dot.com company to be sued by a record company, Baidu is facing a payout of 10,000 dollars in compensation. Although it has decided to appeal to a higher court after losing the lawsuit, the likelihood of reversal appears slim.
In contrast to Baidu's argument that the plaintiff is setting a wrong target, as it's only providing links to other websites with the songs and did not offer downloading services itself, Xu Chao from the State Copyright Bureau says search engine companies should be held responsible if they know songs belong to certain copyright owners yet still provide them.
"What we are going to control is not netizens, but website service providers. Websites providing music or movies without copyright for downloading is not allowed," said Xu.
In the wake of the case, many internet companies have pledged to stop providing MP3 search services, saying MP3 searching does not infringe the interests of copyright owners, but helps the real infringers.
Ren Xuejun is from Netease, one of China's three leading Internet portals.
"We think we should not promote or spread music that may lead to copyright disputes. We have the obligation to provide legal and responsible information so that intellectual property rights be protected," said Ren.
She adds that in the future with the standardization of website management, it is very unlikely that websites will be able to obtain music resources for free and also netizens have to pay for downloading music or movies.
Source: CRI news