The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has announced a renewed legal assault on several companies, including Baidu and Yahoo China, which it alleges are "committing mass copyright infringement".
At the same time, Google is reported to be finalising plans to provide free licensed music downloads in China, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal citing unnamed sources "close to the situation".
"After months of fruitless negotiations, legal proceedings have been filed today against [China's] biggest internet company, Baidu. Separate actions have also been brought against Sohu and its associate company Sogou," the IFPI said in a statement.
"Meanwhile, Yahoo China faces fresh proceedings following its refusal to comply with a landmark ruling in December that it violated Chinese law by committing mass copyright infringement."
The accused companies are not distributing copyrighted music nor storing it on their own servers, the IFPI admitted, but are providing standard web links to music stored on elsewhere on the internet.
While cases against companies linking to copyrighted content have usually been laughed out of court in developed countries with clear laws protecting free speech, Chinese courts have taken them more seriously.
Although music industry cases against locally-owned firms, such as Baidu, have failed in the past, two Chinese courts did back copyright infringement charges filed against Yahoo last year.
The second of these decisions, a high court ruling in December, seems to have breathed new life into the music industry's battle against Chinese sites that link to music files.
"We are disappointed that the court did not find Baidu liable. But that judgement was about Baidu's actions in the past, under an old law that is no longer in force," said IFPI chairman John Kennedy.
"Baidu should now prepare to have its actions judged under the new law. We are confident that a court would hold Baidu liable as it has Yahoo China."
Baidu dominates China's search market, with a share approaching 70 per cent compared to about 20 per cent for Google.
The Baidu MP3 search engine, which finds links to music files, is seen as one its key advantages over Google in China.
Record labels attack China's music biz
By Simon Burns on Feb 7, 2008 3:24PM