The copyright dispute between dozens of Chinese writers and the Internet search engine Baidu is of landmark significance.
On March 15, World Consumers' Day, 50 Chinese writers published a declaration accusing Baidu of infringing upon their copyright by allowing the free uploading and downloading of their works from its website library wenku.baidu.com.
Baidu's answer to the accusations is that the site is a public space it has provided for Internet users to keep documents they have uploaded. Baidu admits it is possible that materials such as novels or stories may be uploaded without the authorization of the copyright holders, but says it does not do anything to the uploaded documents and once copyright holders notify them, it will delete the material.
Both sides met for negotiations on Thursday last week and Baidu representatives proposed that it would use its own copyright DNA identification technology to screen the works uploaded but that the writers need to design a special sign that can be identified by the software.
The negotiations broke down as the writers rejected the proposal, which they compared to the protection fees gangsters collect. However, Baidu maintains that the proposal it has offered is one of the best ways to protect the writers' copyrights, as any publisher can use the DNA identification technology to design the symbol and writers do not have to send their publications to Baidu.
The public apology Baidu published on Saturday to the 50 writers and its promise to delete all the works of these writers from the website in three days point to the fact that unauthorized literary works have been uploaded onto the website and the free downloading of these works may have already seriously violated the copyrights of these writers.
But the platform Baidu has provided can be used for uploading and downloading many other kinds of documents. The real copyright violators are those who have uploaded the works without authorization from the copyright holders. The website managers can reasonably claim that they can never know whether those who have uploaded works have the authorization of the copyright holders.
The Beijing copyright bureau will investigate the case, but, whatever the results, one thing is clear, the existing rules and regulations concerning online copyright protection are not enough.
More efforts are needed to better regulate the practices of Internet portals.
(China Daily 03/29/2011 page8)