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US judge revives lawsuit vs Baidu and China

Pro-democracy group allowed to throw censorship sueball

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A US judge has revived a potentially significant anti-censorship lawsuit brought by Stateside pro-democracy activists against Chinese search giant Baidu and the People’s Republic of China.

The original complaint was filed by eight New Yorkers back in 2011 in the US District Court in Manhattan. They claimed Baidu, in collusion with the Chinese authorities, had violated the US constitution by deliberately censoring their pro-democracy writings and videos on its search site.

However, the case looked dead in the water earlier this year when US District Judge Jesse Furman said the defendants hadn’t been properly served with the papers.

It has since emerged that the Chinese government had invoked a Hague Convention which allows a country to refuse to be served if its sovereignty could be infringed as a result.

However, the judge has now declared that Baidu’s New York-based lawyer can be served the lawsuit without infringing China’s sovereignty, according to Reuters.

The plaintiffs have apparently been given 30 days to serve Baidu’s lawyer and 120 days to get the papers to China’s representatives.

Although the eight are demanding a whopping $16m in damages, there are apparently no demands in there that Baidu alter its censorship policy.

Such demands would be impossible for Baidu to meet, given that a pre-condition of any online firm being allowed to operate in China is that it adheres to local laws and regulations – which often means censoring content as required by the government.

Google, of course, removed itself from these obligations after it relocated its search servers across the border in Hong Kong in 2010, although the price it paid is a service frequently disrupted for those behind the Great Firewall.

Although Baidu has seen its lead in the domestic search space trimmed slightly thanks to new entrant Qihoo, its share is still a dominant 70 per cent, with its new rival on around 14 per cent.

Baidu couldn't immediately be reached for comment. ®

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