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Three multinational record companies have filed copyright infringement claims in a Beijing court against China's most popular internet search engine, Baidu.com Inc.

Universal Music Ltd, Warner Music Hong Kong Ltd and Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Hong Kong) Ltd accuse Baidu of violating copyright by providing access to music files, according to an anti-piracy lobby group.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said in a statement yesterday that the music giants have asked the court to order Baidu to remove all links to tracks that they own the rights to.

In addition, separate legal proceedings have been launched by the same three record firms alongside Gold Label Entertainment Ltd against Chinese media company Sohu.com Inc and its search engine, Sogou.

Yahoo! China can also expect legal action, said the IFPI, after it refused to budge on a landmark ruling in December which confirmed that it had violated Chinese law by committing mass copyright infringement through music downloads.

It's not the first time Baidu has faced possible court action following accusations of copyright infringement by deep linking to songs.

EMI, which is not involved in the latest legal spat, originally brought a case against the search engine in autumn 2005. A year ago it announced a tie-up with Baidu to promote its digital catalogue, while the litigation continued.

The Chinese court found that under a previous law Baidu was not liable for copyright infringement, and upheld a November 2006 decision.

The IFPI, which represents the interests of the big players in the music recording industry, hopes that the Yahoo! China ruling late last year will reverse the judgement on Baidu as well as force the Chinese music biz to go legit, or at very least put a dent in internet piracy in that region.

Baidu, Sohu and Sogou will be served claims from the court after the Chinese New Year. Meanwhile, Yahoo! China has still not complied with the December ruling.

"The music industry in China wants partnership with the technology companies – but you cannot build partnership on the basis of systemic theft of copyrighted music and that is why we have been forced to take further actions," said IFPI CEO John Kennedy.

But given that the vast majority – 99 per cent, as the IFPI claims – of music files available for download in the country are pirated, the recording industry could simply be taking yet another train in vain. ®

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