Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, is under fire for copyright violation. On Consumer Right Day earlier in March, 50 famous Chinese writers issued a letter lodging their rights. In this “Open Letter of Opposition to Baidu”, these writers accused Baidu of putting up their copyrighted work for free download on its online library Baidu Wenku without taking their consent.
Background: Baidu Wenku is a library service based on free and user-generated content, where users can upload and download materials in PDF, DOC, PPT, XLS and TXT. By uploading files, users accumulate points that can then be applied for the downloading of materials in need. Owing to this feature, Baidu Wenku has developed rapidly but many of its materials are not authorized by authors or publishing houses.
Hanhan, China’s most popular blogger and also one of the 50 protesters against Baidu, wrote a blog entry directed to Robin Li, Baidu’s founder and CEO. Hanhan cited examples of the poor living conditions of China’s writers and urged Baidu to “become the friend of China’s writers by actively protecting copyright and being the pioneer in digital publishing in China, rather than an enemy”. He even subtly threated to organize public protest at Baidu’s headquarter in Beijing if Baidu insists in “doing evil”. (Hanhan’ s open letter to Robin Li in English)
Hanhan’s letter, together with calls for copyright protection has been one of the top buzzwords in Sina Weibo for days and received almost universal support from netizens. Yesterday, Baidu issued a public apology, saying that they feel sorry to “hurt Chinese writers’ feelings” and promising to delete all copyrighted content from Baidu Wenku.
Baidu being accused of copyright violation is not particularly interesting or new per se. What is interesting in the case is Chinese netizens’ reaction. When Chinese government cracked down P2P websites like BT China and VeryCD (both are platforms featuring user uploaded movie, music and TV drama downloading links), Chinese netizens responded with anger and criticism. Yet, in the case of Baidu Wenku, they seem to turn pro-copyright overnight.
Below are a pair of polls by Sina on both topics. Judging from these results, one can sense Chinese netizens’ double standard toward copyrights issues. To deal with copyright problems in China, regulation is one thing, education is another. Many of the current internet users in China started their online life assuming software, music, movies and books are free for download. They are not used to the concept of paid content, and won’t be in the near future. How to overhaul the perception of “free” internet is an even harder battle to fight than the one against Baidu.