China fines Yahoo! over unlicensed music sites

A Beijing court has ordered Yahoo! China to delete links to free websites offering music-downloads and to pay about 200,000 yuan (£12,922) for facilitating distribution of unlicensed songs by other sites, Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

But in the ruling published on a Chinese website linked to the Court, Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate Court said Yahoo! China should bear some responsibility for the copyright infringement, although the music was downloaded from servers of third-party websites.

Yahoo! China said in a statement it would file an appeal.

In early January, 11 record companies sued Yahoo! China for alleged copyright infringement involving more than 200 unlicensed songs, seeking damages of 5.5 million yuan.

Yahoo! China’s music website provides customers with music search services, allowing Internet users to access related music links if they type key words into Yahoo!’s search engine. The court said Yahoo! China assisted other websites by allowing its search-engine users to find the third-party sites where the illegal songs could be downloaded. But the court added that the third-party websites, not Yahoo! China, were mainly responsible for the illegal spread of these songs.

Yahoo! China spokesman Xu Yang told Xinhua that Chinese Internet search leader was cleared last year of similar allegations.

‘If any mistake has been made, Baidu made the same one. The crux of the argument in the two cases are similar,’ he said.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the music industry trade organisation that co-ordinated the action against Yahoo! said that the decision was good news for the industry.

‘This judgement will boost the growth of a licensed digital music business in China and provide better protection for intellectual property in this vast, exciting market,’ it said in a statement. ‘The ruling promises to improve the whole environment in which the local and international music industry does business in China.

It said that Yahoo!’s complaint that it had been treated differently to Baidu was invalid, since this judgement was made under new regulations.

‘The judgement gives our members the legal basis to require all music search engines in China to remove infringing links from their service – which we will do,’ it said. ‘The Court has effectively called time on this type of mass digital piracy in China. Now we must see that this ruling is respected by all those who seek to profit from providing access to music online in this way.’

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