Baidu's Bad Behavior

I wrote a while back about how to download music through Baidu’s MP3 search. Since then, Baidu has taken some heat, and downloads from overseas are no longer allowed (but it still works fine in China).

In the past couple months, Baidu has been accused of a lot more than just indexing copyrighted music that’s already online. The alleged sins include:

– Bullying other sites to take down any negative publicity about Baidu (the implicit threat: taking a big fall in Baidu’s rankings if you don’t comply)
– Using superior technology to secretly host the MP3 files it indexes and hide the evidence
– Moving files from server to server to “comply” with take-down demands while the MP3s stay comfortably downloadable from Baidu’s index

Yikes. “Don’t be evil” is looking pretty good right about now. Read more about this here (contains links to other sources).


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Ick! I try to buy my music legally, as evidenced by the huge stack of Jay Chou, Khalil Fong, Jam Hsiao, Nan Quan Mama, etc. in my room. I’ve obviously never used Baidu, but do they think they’re the music mafia or something?! I don’t get the bit in the link about the Sanlu milk. It seems a bit far-fetched.

    I’ve found the lyrics on the Internet to be rather horrible. The other week, I was translating Angela Chang’s “雨后” and the lyrics I found had a homophone in the place of “雨.” It was an obvious mistake, and I checked with the KTV on YouTube in case there were any more “typos.” It’s a good thing CDs always come with lyrics books and that KTVs are still on YouTube even though YouTube tries to get rid of them.

  2. I for one support Baidu in as much as they make it easier to find and download new music. Of course it would be awsome if someone could host all the music ever created for everyone to enjoy, it’s just copyright retarding the progress. Had it not been for all the movies, TV series and music I’ve downloaded I’d never gotten the idea of going to China for the first place. As it happens I’ve now bought lots and lots of movies, TV series and music, but piracy is the catalyst and basically the only tool for finding anything new outside of the mainstream (hint: non-Western music is not mainstream in the West).

  3. Eric 江磊 Says: October 12, 2008 at 5:34 am

    Hopefully you guys won’t see it as out-of-line if I ask a few questions (I’m an American student of Chinese). I hear a lot of Chinese sites as “The Chinese _______” (fill in the blank with google, youtube, wikipedia, etc.), but I don’t hear much about the marketshare of those sites. Does Baidu enjoy the same omnipresence that Google has in the states, or is it split a bit more evenly. Does Hudong or Baidu Baike rank as the first choice for those trying to look something up online? If either of these are split, where do the lines fall? Age? Region? Internet Savvy?

    I’m not looking for statistical evidence, I just want to hear a few anecdotes, if anyone has a few. Sorry for being a windbag!

  4. @ Eric

    As far as I know, Baidu is actually still outdoing Google in China in terms of hits. You won’t find too many young savvy Internet users who don’t use Google, but Baidu is still their first choice, generally speaking.

    As for Baidu not working abroad, interesting John brought this up. I actually just noticed this myself after returning from my last trip to China. Baidu music search simply yields no results when using it from the US. To proponents of IP protection, this is probably seen as a step in the right direction. The irony is however, that after 3.5 years living in China, I still would have no idea whatsoever where to buy a legitimate copy of a Chinese CD, let alone where to get it from abroad. My Chinese friends would always either direct me to a shop selling pirated CD’s for 15 kuai, or simply to go to baidu. Same could be said for software until recently. I should mention I spent most of my time in second tier cities. Things would be different in say, Beijing or Shanghai.

    One of the reasons (and I know I’m tangenting here) why China has been so lax on policing its own internal IP (I’m talking about Chinese artists here, not foreign ones), is that many of the artists recognize there isn’t much profit in the CD/paid download trade, and instead turn to other avenues for their profits. (I can’t say I have ever met a single Chinese person who has owned any legitimate CD’s or DVD’s, other than serious collectors). This of course is why you can see Zhou Jie Lun’s face on virtually everything from bottles of water and potato chips to M-Zone phone cards.

  5. I’m pretty sure Baidu’s corporate logo is something like “Eh, be evil, it pays the bills.” 🙂

  6. Man, the overseas downloads are no longer allowed?

    Oh but why?!!! Baidu was a treasure trove to a lot of media.
    Sometimes I don’t know why piracy is such a big deal when there are plenty of times that artists legitimately rip off people by producing awful albums as well… but oh well, the law is the law.

  7. @Ben Ross: I guess that puts me in the category of “serious collectors.” I have all of Zhou Jie Lun’s albums, one of his concert sets, the OST to the movie the directed, the VCDs for “Secret” and “Kung Fu Dunk,” and the DVD for “Initial D.” I’m not sure whether that makes me a “collector” or an “obsessed fan.”

    @Lady: So the overseas record companies don’t know to sue them.

  8. […] few minutes ago I was testing the waters in Baidu’s MP3 search (which is reportedly disabled for those of you living stateside, but works fine for those of us here in China). In the interest […]

  9. @Ben Ross:

    Sadly, it’s difficult to buy legal CDs in the big cities too. I’ve seen dodgy stuff in Carrefour in the past. I generally go for Xinhua. They used to be the state media distribution monopoly; if they’re not legal, I give up. But the simple new answer is – free, legal music downloads in mainland China.

    Also, do you think that the inability to generate cash from selling, erm, actual music stifles cultural diversity that would otherwise exist? If your key revenue source is endorsements, you’re effectively selling pretty faces, and you’ve no incentive to be anything other than musically bland (cf. the Ed Peto article on Danwei).

    @Philip Jägenstedt:

    “Piracy is the only tool” is nonsense. The only tool for lazy people who exploit others’ work, maybe. How does Baidu do more to make non-Western entertainment more accessible than or (itself effectively funded by YesAsia)? Baidu allows you to break the law, but that makes it less likely that non-Western entertainment will be available (witness the collapse of the HK film industry in the last decade). I certainly don’t have completely clean hands myself, but it continues to amaze me how many Westerners don’t even think about the fact that they’re ignoring the law just because they find it inconvenient.

  10. @Seektruthfromfacts: I agree that too many of the artists that are doing well in the business are just pretty faces. There are too many so-called “artists” that only do mediocre jobs covering things written by other people. I try to buy CDs as much as I can, via YesAsia. However, there are simply a lot of choices that aren’t available to me. Sure, they have a lot of the mainstream artists I enjoy (e.g. Jay Chou, LeeHom Wang, Mayday, sodagreen, A-Yue, etc.), but they do not offer the more indie music I enjoy (Peng Tan, Totem, and some others). Every now and then, a really good indie band will make it on there, such as Fusion Band from Mainland China, and I will be able to buy their albums. However, when it doesn’t happen, I’m not sure whether I ought to turn to another more dubious site and wait for months for my order to arrive.

    I see how it can be a tool, though, when people actually want to buy the albums. It gives them a chance to test out the songs before ordering the CDs and make better choices for their tastes. I could imagine that I would have Jolin Tsai and S.H.E CDs had I not been able to listen to them beforehand!

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