Baidu.com, China's biggest online search company, has agreed to delete thousands of links to internet sites that offer pirated pop songs, leading Chinese digital rights management company R 2G said.
R2G , which tracks piracy and manages licences for music publishers, said complaints by it to Baidu based on recently strengthened copyright regulations had prompted the search company to drop the weblinks to pirated MP3 music files from its music search platform.
R2G 's effort to pressurise Baidu into cutting the links highlights the legal risks associated with the search company's music service at a time when it is preparing for a US initial public offering expected to raise about $ 80m .
In its recent prospectus, Baidu quoted market research saying that 22 per cent of traffic on its website was generated by the MP3 search platform, which allows users to easily and freely download and listen to a huge number of pop songs posted on third-party sites.
Analysts say the vast majority of the songs have been pirated, and R 2G cited Chinese regulations issued in late May that require search engines to cut internet links to sites shown to be abusing copyright.
“As China 's legal environment is progressively perfected, search engines should not be able to shirk their responsibilities as they have in the past,” R 2G said.
Scarlett Li, R 2G chief operating officer, said Baidu had cut weblinks to more than 3,000 music files of a single song by Chinese pop star Man Jiang alone, and that the search engine was discussing its links to more than 50,000 files.
R2G targeted Baidu as part of a broader effort to generate licence income for its clients and to crack down on pirated content on the internet.
Baidu, in which global search leader Google has a small stake, declined to comment on the specifics of its dealings with R 2G .
There has been heated debate around the world in recent years about how to manage digital copyright and the role of search engines in helping internet users to find content.
Music and film companies have been criticised for being slow to make their content available on the internet, forcing online listeners to go to pirate services or “peer-to-peer” file-sharing networks, like Grokster, StreamCast and Kazaa.
While R 2G 's successful pressure on Baidu will be seen as progress by advocates of stronger copyright protection, it will have little impact on the scale of music piracy in China , where even illicitly produced compact discs are often easier to purchase than legitimate versions.