Baidu Expose Suggests That It's A Lot More Involved In Music Downloads Than It Lets On

from the not-so-much-of-an-innocent-bystander dept

More than three years ago, when Chinese search engine Baidu first filed to go public, we noted that it's huge advantage over Google in China appeared to stem from its very popular music download search engine -- and we wondered if going public would force that to go away, potentially damaging the company's bottom line significantly. In fact, we were surprised that it appeared that the investors in the site hadn't done much due diligence to understand what was going on. The recording industry wasted little time in suing Baidu. While Baidu won the first case on a technicality and quickly sued again.

At first, this did seem like a typical situation seen with other online search engines, such as The Pirate Bay or even Google, where it's not really clear how Baidu could stop the searches for unauthorized music. However, a new investigative report by The Register found evidence that suggests Baidu is actually a lot more involved in the music download business than it lets on. Specifically, the search results mostly link to a mysterious network of sites that are only reachable via Baidu searches. You can't just go to the sites directly. The sites themselves have a long (and potentially growing) list of random domain names such that the songs constantly move around, and any time Baidu receives a "takedown" it can claim it complied, while the music almost immediately shows back up on the next domain in the list. Also, Baidu almost never links to other, legitimate, download sites -- preferring to point people to these sites that are unreachable outside of Baidu instead.

All in all, it certainly sounds like Baidu is a lot more involved in providing the actual downloads than it would as just a search engine.

That said, The Register's report includes a variety of unsupported statements about how this has "destroyed" economic activity in the music business. As we've seen, the music business has actually adapted to the expectation that the music itself is free in China. I recognize that it's popular for the RIAA and IFPI to make claims about how downloading is destroying the music industry, but you would think that the Register would know better.

Filed Under: china, downloads, music
Companies: baidu

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  1. identicon
    Ed Peto, 16 Sep 2008 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Eastern Paradise?

    Hi Mike,

    I understand you never said that China was a paradise but your persistent suggestion that China's industry is some sort of success story grates slightly:

    "In China, where "piracy" is rampant, the music industry is thriving" (You - Oct 22nd 2007)

    Clumsy use of the term by me though, granted.

    The focus of my comment was actually on how 100% piracy effects the conditions for creativity, not so much the business side. The West has developed myriad genres catering to every musical taste under the yolk of IP protection. Without this historically ingrained passion for diversity, in the context of an IP free-for-all, China's musical output is totally one-dimensional and will remain so as long as outfits like Baidu refuse to share their enormous spoils off the back of music. Creators of long tail music in China are totally neglected in the value chain, resulting in a pop 'echo-chamber' where only lowest common denominator music is rewarded to the cost of everything else. This lack of money in the long tail and resulting homogenization of music is the direct result of free MP3s. In this respect 'free' is certainly nothing to be admiring.

    To come back to my original objection, the landscape resulting from Baidu's music search and charting system is entirely undesirable and therefore The Register is totally justified in its attack. No need to paint it with the RIAA/IFPI brush. Having read your comebacks in these comments I see that we essentially agree on most points. I think we just differ on our understanding of the benevolence of Baidu.

    Saying all this, once you accept that music IS free in China, it makes for some genuinely exciting challenges from a business perspective: New models and so forth. From the artists point of view, these new models couldn't come too soon.

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