Chinese blogger takes on Baidu

Last week, Larry Page’s dream of "organizing all the world’s information" hit a set-back.  A federal judge in New York threw out a settlement between Google, which aims to digitize and put online all the world’s books, and a group of publishing houses and authors that had sued for copyright infringement. As a result, the ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Last week, Larry Page's dream of "organizing all the world's information" hit a set-back.  A federal judge in New York threw out a settlement between Google, which aims to digitize and put online all the world's books, and a group of publishing houses and authors that had sued for copyright infringement. As a result, the Google books project is in limbo.

Meanwhile, a parallel conversation, of sorts, is happening across the Pacific. China's largest search engine, Baidu, is facing accusations from a group of more than 50 writers that the company violated their copyright by allowing the distribution of their content online for free without their permission. 

Thus far, the accusations have taken the form of an online letter-writing campaign, not a legal battle. Baidu stands acccused not of digitizing the content itself, but of allowing its platform to be used by others to rip off writers. (No one attributes to Baidu CEO Robin Li, for better or worse, Larry Page-esque idealism about bettering the world through promoting free information.)

Last week, Larry Page’s dream of "organizing all the world’s information" hit a set-back.  A federal judge in New York threw out a settlement between Google, which aims to digitize and put online all the world’s books, and a group of publishing houses and authors that had sued for copyright infringement. As a result, the Google books project is in limbo.

Meanwhile, a parallel conversation, of sorts, is happening across the Pacific. China’s largest search engine, Baidu, is facing accusations from a group of more than 50 writers that the company violated their copyright by allowing the distribution of their content online for free without their permission. 

Thus far, the accusations have taken the form of an online letter-writing campaign, not a legal battle. Baidu stands acccused not of digitizing the content itself, but of allowing its platform to be used by others to rip off writers. (No one attributes to Baidu CEO Robin Li, for better or worse, Larry Page-esque idealism about bettering the world through promoting free information.)

It might sound a bit muddy, but that makes it a perfect moment for Han Han, the 28-year-old celebrity Chinese blogger (plus race car driver, FP Global Thinker, and rumored New York Times columnist-to-be), to jump into the fray. Han Han specializes in drawing clear-cut lessons from sometimes chaotic circumstances, with an idiosyncratic blend of righteousness and cynicism. He also has a talent for translating battles of ideas and interests into indictments of particular individuals — in this case Robin Li.

In the event U.S. audiences are about to get much more exposure to his writing and thinking, we bring you this preview. Here’s a translated version of Han Han’s Mar. 25 "Shame on Baidu" blog post:

Baidu claims that the spirit of the internet is about free goods and sharing. I don’t particularly agree with this point of view. The way I see it, the internet is about freedom and broadcasting.

If it were about free goods, then why does Baidu charge for advertisements disguised as search results? If it were about sharing, then why after becoming one of China’s richest people, doesn’t Robin Li share his personal wealth and his company’s assets with the rest of us?

Baidu’s business model is that all the goods on offer are free of charge, and because of the huge traffic they make money off advertising. No problem with that, but I sure hope they haven’t forgotten that the producers of these goods also need to earn a living. Baidu then came up with "sharing". Sharing should be that I donate my goods, you donate yours, and then we all take home what each of us likes best.

The problem is that right now, you and me are donating and sharing other people’s goods. That is what Baidu’s free goods and sharing is about….

Dear friends, I intimately understand the predicament of Chinese writers. Most of them need two to three years to finish a single book. For each book they make ten or twenty thousand yuan (USD 1,500 – 3,000). That’s at most 800 yuan (USD 120) per month, my friend. … If you download it for free then suit yourself, but do you really need to add insult to injury and criticize those writers, my friend?

And what about our 60 billion yuan (USD 9 billion) main man over there? Please leave some room for the Chinese publishing industry and its authors to earn a living. Any dirty old dire strait will do.

Read more here. I admire Han Han for always sticking his neck out, but I honestly got a little lost trying to fully follow the logic. 

Christina Larson is an award-winning foreign correspondent and science journalist based in Beijing, and a former Foreign Policy editor. She has reported from nearly a dozen countries in Asia. Her features have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Science, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and other publications. In 2016, she won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Morton Frank Award for international magazine writing. Twitter: @larsonchristina

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