Music industry lawsuits: they’re not just for the West anymore. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the international body charged with protecting music labels, has announced its plan to sue Yahoo China within the next couple of weeks over the search engine’s alleged links to sites hosting pirated music.
Similar action was also taken last year against the leading Chinese search engine, Baidu.com. The IFPI’s threats are based on the claim that it is illegal to link to illicit material, a claim bolstered by a new Chinese law. Bloomberg has the details:
The federation is also considering using a new Chinese law that came into effect July 1 that fines distributors of illegally copied music, movies and other material over the Internet as much as 100,000 yuan ($12,500). As of today, Chinese search engines operated by Yahoo China and Baidu.com provide links to other Web sites hosting illegally copied songs.
The law says a Web site is jointly liable with the host of the pirated files for infringement “if it knows or should know that the work, performance or sound or video recording linked to was infringing.”
Though the explicit threat of a lawsuit is something new, IFPI chief John Kennedy used a May speech in Shanghai to indicate that his organization was prepared to take on more Chinese search engines over the issue of piracy.
It is clear that the ISPs are far from adequately supporting us today. I have been very disappointed in recent months to see some well-known brand names among the internet companies blatantly infringing our members’ rights. Baidu has already been found guilty of copyright infringement in the Chinese courts; China-Yahoo is now in a similar position, choosing to turn a blind eye to the infringements taking place on its service instead of setting the example of responsible practice which we would expect from them. We are watching China-Yahoo closely and will have no hesitating in acting to protect our members’ rights if we should have to.
Though such a lawsuit would hassle Yahoo China (not actually run by Yahoo, but by Chinese operator Alibaba.com.cn), the more interesting aspect to this story is what the recent legal cases say about China. The country has not always been a role model for the rule of law, nor has it always appeared interested in fighting piracy. The situation got so bad that the US threatened to go to the WTO and seek sanctions, but China has recently been saying and doing all the right things. The IFPI suits indicate the entertainment industry’s belief that legal threats now mean something in China, and that the Chinese market is poised for enough growth to make the legal effort worthwhile.
Such moves, coupled with statements from Beijing about the need for China to get serious about enforcement, suggest that the Chinese IP free-for-all may be slowly winding down. With piracy rates for music and software still hovering at 90 percent, substantial change will come slowly, but there’s little doubt that it’s on the way.