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China to ‘punish’ Baidu, others for illegal music downloads

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According to China’s official state news agency Xinhua, China’s ministry of culture plans to “punish” more than a dozen Web sites—including China’s leading Internet portal and search engine Baidu—for providing illegal music downloads to site visitors. According to Xinhua, the sites continued to provide access to illegal downloads even after repeated warnings from the culture ministry. The nature of the government’s “punishment” was not specified.

Baidu has indicated it will quickly remove links to the files specified by the ministry. However, the company noted that search engine indexing is a ongoing process, and files previously removed from Baidu’s index may have been uploaded to new locations where they were discovered and indexed by Baidu.

Earlier this month, Baidu announced it is planning to pay royalties on songs downloaded from a soon-to-be-launched ad-supported licensed music service that would apply to every piece of music downloaded via its site. The company plans to position the paid music service as an alternative to illegal downloads, which currently dominate the Chinese online music market. For years, Baidu has been described as a mecca for illegal music and video downloading, with the company’s indexes often featuring “deep links” to illegally shared material hosted elsewhere. Baidu’s traditional explanation has been analogous to The Pirate Bay—we aren’t hosting the infringing material, just linking to where it’s hosted elsewhere. However, as Baidu’s position in the Chinese market has grown—and its services have increasingly been used to host illegally distributed content—the company has come under increasing pressure from publishers, rights holders, and even the Chinese government to curtail digital piracy.

The Chinese cultural ministry’s current announcement of pending “punishment” stems from a a warning issued to Baidu and other Internet companies more than a year ago.

Xinhua also reported the ministry is punishing 20 online gaming companies for using “vulgar” promotions for their games, and has censured four other companies for operating unlicensed online gaming venues.

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