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US democracy activists lose case against Baidu and China

Manhattan court is not the place to sue a country, says judge

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Chinese search giant Baidu has seen off a $US16m legal challenge from a group of pro-democracy supporters in New York

The unusual lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in Manhattan back in 2011, with the plaintiffs alleging that Baidu effectively acted as an agent of the Chinese state to deliberately suppress their pro-democracy China-related content in searches conducted even outside the Great Firewall, in the States. That action, they alleged, violated the US Constitution.

The case was dismissed on Monday after US District Judge Jesse Furman said the defendants hadn’t been properly served with the papers, Reuters reported.

China is said to have invoked a Hague Convention which apparently allows a nation to refuse to be served if such papers could infringe its sovereignty.

Basically, it argued that a district court in Manhattan is the wrong place to serve a lawsuit against an entire country, and the judge has agreed.

Furman has now given the plaintiffs 30 days to find an acceptable way to serve Baidu, and to find a legally convincing argument why the case against China shouldn’t be dismissed.

The case is unlikely to have any impact on Baidu’s business as long as it remains focused on its domestic market - the firm has always been pretty consistent in complying with local laws (ie self-censoring) in China.

Google, of course, chose to take a stand three years ago by locating its search servers outside the Great Firewall in Hong Kong, which led to a degraded search experience for those inside China as sensitive terms were blocked at the border and service timeouts became commonplace.

Baidu already had a pretty big lead in the Chinese search engine market, but in hindsight this decision pretty much sealed Google’s fate there.

It now sits in fourth place with less than a 5 per cent share, while Baidu has over 70 per cent.

A Baidu spokesman told The Reg the firm had nothing to add except that it filed for dismissal after failing to be properly served the court papers. ®

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