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Google launches free (legal) music search in China

Music labels bang heads over Baidu

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Together with the world's four largest music labels, Google has formally launched an ad-based MP3 download service in China to combat easily accessible illegal downloads that have effectively killed the country's music industry online.

The venture, which also has the backing of 14 independent labels, will compete against similar MP3 search services — most significantly the country's leading search engine, Baidu — that "deep link" directly to music files and whose results are heavily skewed in favor of unlicensed music.

Google began testing the service in August 2008 in partnership with the partially-Google-owned Top100.cn, which had dropped its own download service for the venture. The companies have secured licenses for more than 1.1 million songs from record labels including Warner, Sony BMG, Universal, and EMI. Under testing, the service only had about 350,000 songs available for download.

The companies said they will share advertising revenue with the record labels — although no financial details were disclosed. But in China, Google doesn't have nearly the clout it does elsewhere. Estimates put Google at controlling between 17-28 per cent of the search market, compared to Baidu's 62-77 per cent.

According to the the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), over 99 per cent of all music downloads in China are illegal. IFPI claims about half of online music piracy is done by deep-linking music sites, compared to Europe and North America where P2P is the preferred platform of pirates.

Google's music download search service won't be offered outside China.

In 2005, Warner, Universal, Sony, and EMI sued Baidu for alleged copyright violations and lost when the court ruled that although the company provides links to music files, there isn't any infringement by Baidu itself.

Another lawsuit was filed in 2008 by the IFPI on behalf of the music labels, claiming Baidu provides "music listening, broadcasting and downloading services in various forms on its website without approval, and through unfettered piracy, earning huge advertising revenue on its huge number of hits." ®

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