September 25, 2020

China’s Biggest Search Engine, Known for Illegal Downloads, Makes Music Deal

The agreement between Baidu and One-Stop China, a joint venture between the Universal Music Group, the Warner Music Group and Sony BMG, will shut down access to a vast amount of pirated music and promises to broadly reshape the way China’s 450 million Web users gain access to online music. The country has long been a haven for pirated content. Baidu has been one of the chief conduits to it, much to the consternation of record labels, publishers and artists both here and abroad.

Under the two-year deal between Baidu and One-Stop China, the three music labels will license over 500,000 songs, about 10 percent of them in Mandarin and Cantonese, which will be stored on Baidu’s servers and available for free streaming and download on the site’s ad-supported MP3 search page and social music platform, Ting.

Baidu will pay a fee to the labels for each time a song is downloaded or played in a stream. It will also share revenue from online ads if that revenue exceeds a certain amount, as well as provide promotional support for the labels. The companies declined to disclose financial details of the agreement.

With Baidu taking up the costs, this deal keeps music free — but legal. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents global music companies, estimates that 99 percent of the music found online in China is illegal, much of it available through Baidu. Although China has more broadband connections than the United States and a rapidly growing middle class, the global recorded music industry’s revenue in the country for 2009 was worth just $75 million, compared with $4.6 billion in the United States, according to the federation. So making money from music downloads and streaming in China will have an outsize impact for the labels, since digital sales accounted for 76 percent of the country’s legitimate music revenue in 2010, compared with just 29 percent globally, where CD sales remain dominant.

As part of the deal, on Monday the labels and Baidu agreed to a settlement endorsed by the Beijing Higher People’s Court ending all outstanding litigation. For years, the American and Chinese music industries have singled out Baidu for criticism, saying the company has enabled users to steal vast quantities of copyrighted music, accusations that spurred a number of unsuccessful lawsuits.

In February, the United States trade representative named Baidu as one of the world’s 33 “notorious markets” for piracy and counterfeiting, centering on Baidu’s practice of “deep linking,” or providing search results that direct users to unlicensed songs on other Web sites. Although American search engines have long been forced to abandon such practices, Chinese courts had ruled that deep linking was legal because the music was not stored on Baidu’s servers.

Despite those favorable court decisions, Baidu has now agreed to remove all deep links to music belonging to the three labels, though a small amount of other independently loaded music may remain available. “We’ve never wanted to stand there and thumb our noses at the recording industry,” said Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications. “This is a watershed moment. It’s a great way for us to deliver the best possible user experience by providing free and high-quality music and brings obvious tangible benefits to all parties involved including the labels, artists and advertisers.”

Later this year, as part of the agreement, Baidu plans to introduce a premium fee-based service which will allow paying users to download music onto any computer, tablet or mobile device from a virtual storage locker.

Mr. Kuo added that music search was profitable but had never been a source of major traffic. He said it accounted for a high of 30 percent in 2004 and was now less than 10 percent.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/technology/baidu-chinas-search-giant-announces-music-licensing-deal.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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