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Sohu Video sues Baidu, Jinritoutiao for copyright infringement

Zhang Chaoyang, Sohu’s CEO, said, “Sohu Video is the victim here. Our productions are constantly pirated online."

Oct 12, 2018 by A. Alfaro
Sohu Video sues Baidu, Jinritoutiao for copyright infringement

Sohu Video (搜狐视频) belonging to Sohu (搜狐), a Chinese Nasdaq-listed media company, on October 8, filed a lawsuit against Chinese tech behemoths Baidu and Jinritoutiao (今日头条), Bytedance’s news outlet in a Nanjing court.

Sohu argued that, both in Baidu Cloud and Jinritoutiao platform, its production “I'm A Pet at Dali Temple”, a costume drama first aired on Sohu Video on 25 September 2018, could be found.

According to Sohu, this constitutes a copyright infringement. The court in Nanjing accepted to hear the case.

According to Sohu’s claims, Baidu knew that users were storing video files of “I'm A Pet at Dali Temple”, and yet failed to delete them. Not only that, Baidu is accused of letting users distribute the files and download them to watch them offline without the original creator’s permission.

According to Sohu, Jinritoutiao too allowed users to upload and webcast fragments of the show on its website.

Both companies would have engaged in an illegal activity and harmed Sohu’s protected interests, Sohu claims. The Beijing-based company demands to put a stop on such activities and claims CNY 10 million as compensation.

Zhang Chaoyang, Sohu’s CEO, during an interview with Chinese portal Leidiwang, said, “Sohu Video is the victim here. Our productions are constantly pirated online”.

“After investing so much money in producing good audiovisual content, it is stolen right after it's broadcasted. This affects our paid users and could prevent people from investing in audiovisual production. Also, we are not willing to buy the rights for US series because it can be easily found on Baidu Cloud.”

Sohu Video chose to produce its own content, which is cheaper than buying rights for third-party productions. By producing its own content, Sohu hoped to attract enough traffic so that it could become profitable by next year.

In Q2 2018, Sohu Video produced USD 35 million in losses, but a year before, it produced USD 100 million in losses.

The company has improved its performance, but Zhang Chaoyang’s plans to make Sohu Video profitable seem to have found an obstacle: pirated content.

This is not the first time Sohu is resorting to legal actions. In November 2017, Sohu sued Baidu for illegally distributing on Baidu Cloud the show “Fleet of Time (匆匆那年)”. The court ordered Baidu to remove that content from its website and compensate Sohu with CNY 500,000. Sohu saw this as a turning point in the protection of intellectual property. Back then, Zhang Chaoyang was quoted in the Chinese media as saying, “we will continue to pursue legal actions to the end and we hope other companies in the industry to do the same”.

Baidu defended itself from the latest accusations. According to Baidu, it monitored the content on its platform and removed those files that were reported for copyright infringement, protecting the users’ privacy. Also, Baidu has established work groups to deal specifically with pirated content. However, Zhang Chaoyang thinks that is not enough.

During the interview with Leidiwang, he criticized Baidu’s robots exclusion protocol that prevents searches of particular files. “According to Baidu, we can notify them of the copyright infringement and they will remove the file, but I do not care about their protocol, I only care about the final outcome, which is that our content is being pirated," Zhang said.

He added that Baidu uses the protocol as an excuse to avoid its responsibility and he is willing to fight until the end.

“We hope to get the CNY 10 million compensation and will wait for all the infringers to be punished. Only then will the online content industry be prosperous”.

A. Alfaro

A. Alfaro is a Beijing-based freelance reporter. He focuses on China's politics, culture and society. He can be reached at varofaro@gmail.com. 

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