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.