March 07, 2006
Yahoo China Offers Direct Link To Music Pirates (Reuters)
TAIPEI (Billboard) - Yahoo China's music search engine has
turned up bad news for the music industry and possible legal
action against the global Web portal.
In a situation that seems to mirror that of market-leading
-- and already sued -- local portal http://www.baidu.com, Yahoo
China's music pages link directly to unlicensed downloads and
streams of songs by domestic and international artists.
"Deep linking," as the practice is known, differs from
sending Web searchers to other pages that may host unlicensed
music. Instead, the links on Baidu and Yahoo directly trigger a
download of music hosted by sites that appear to be
unaffiliated with Yahoo.
The most obvious examples of apparent copyright
infringement on the Yahoo China site include deep links to
music by the Beatles. The band's catalog has never been
licensed to a digital service. This is similar to
http://www.top100.cn , a Chinese music Web site that claimed
legitimacy but sold unlicensed music.
Yahoo China management denies that such links are examples
of copyright violations.
Yahoo "is a directory of what's on the Web," says Porter
Erisman, international marketing VP of Beijing-based Alibaba
International, the company that manages Yahoo China. Erisman
says that if content is streaming or being downloaded from
another site, such violations would be the responsibility of
that site. "Yahoo China doesn't actually post the works which
(users) are downloading," Erisman says.
California-based Yahoo paid $1 billion for a 40% stake in
Internet auction site Alibaba last August, then turned over
management and operation of its China portal to Alibaba. Yahoo
China is a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Internet
portal Yahoo. The U.S. operation http://www.yahoo.com links
directly to http://www.yahoo.com.cn, which makes yahoo.com
users three clicks from downloading unlicensed music.
"Yahoo absolutely supports the widespread protection of
copyright laws and strongly opposes the violation of copyright
protections by companies or individuals," a Yahoo
representative wrote in an e-mail. "Yahoo aims to respect all
intellectual property rights and will remove any content when
we become aware of material that infringes on copyrights. It is
worth noting that as of October 2005, alibaba.com operates and
manages the Yahoo China business, including its search
Chinese courts have ruled against deep linking in seemingly
similar cases. Baidu was found guilty of copyright infringement
by the Beijing People's Local Court September 16, 2005, in a
case brought by Shanghai Bu-sheng Music Culture Media, the
local distributor for EMI. Baidu has appealed the ruling, and
appears to continue to post copyright-infringing links.
Like Baidu, Yahoo China deep links to downloads from a host
of internationally popular artists. Yahoo.cn takes the
unlicensed digital music experience one step further, offering
access to streaming songs. Once users are logged into their
Yahoo accounts -- U.S. yahoo.com accounts work -- they can
select from a list of hundreds of artists to open a new Web
page with Yahoo formatting and Yahoo's logo that will stream
the music. As with the downloads, this music appears to be
hosted by sites unaffiliated with Yahoo.
Billboard also found links on yahoo.cn for ringtone
downloads at http://www.3721.com, a site bearing the Yahoo name
and logo and registered to Alibaba.com Corp. of Hong Kong.
Users of 3721 are asked to provide their name, cell phone
number and handset model before a ringtone is sent to their
phone for a charge of 2 renminbi (25 cents). A Chinese software
and keyword engine, 3721 Network Software was acquired by Yahoo
for $120 million in 2003.
Billboard was unable to determine the licensing status of
ringtones sold on 3721. But the Beatles' music, which has never
been made available for ringtones, was for sale.
Industry executives say Yahoo China's music service clearly
violates their copyrights. "We have not licensed anything to
Yahoo China," says Swee Wong, Hong Kong-based managing director
of Sony BMG China. "Our view is that they are in the same
category as Baidu, using 'deep links' to make available our
repertoire illegally." Yahoo China links to sites offering
downloads of tracks by Sony BMG artists, including Michael
Jackson and Avril Lavigne. Sony BMG star Kelly Clarkson's hit
"Because of You" could be downloaded and streamed for free and
appeared to be for sale as a ringtone.
"Yahoo China is as bad as Baidu, where illegal MP3 search
accounts for the majority of the traffic," echoes Ken Cheung,
Warner Music Asia Pacific's new media/business development VP,
also based in Hong Kong. Yahoo China deep linked to tracks from
Green Day, a Warner Music Group act.
Other links to such acts as Eminem and Coldplay represent
the remaining major labels. Independent labels have also been
affected. "We don't have a licensing agreement with Yahoo
China," says a representative for leading Tokyo-based
independent label Avex. Yet the Yahoo China Web site features
links to MP3 files of songs by such Avex acts as Japanese diva
Sony BMG China's Wong says the Asia Pacific regional office
of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry
(IFPI), the music business' main lobbying arm, sent Yahoo China
cease-and-desist warnings on behalf of the four major
international labels in December.
In an e-mailed statement, IFPI general counsel Geoff Taylor
stopped short of confirming the letters, but wrote, "It appears
that the China Yahoo service is infringing our members'
copyrights by making available via 'deep links' songs that they
have not been licensed to distribute. We have raised our
concerns with Yahoo and China Yahoo. We are hoping that this
activity will now be stopped. In the meantime, we are reserving
our members' rights to take legal action if it proves
China's difficulties in controlling piracy are well
documented. The IFPI estimates that 90% of the music sold in
China, the world's 20th-largest music market, is from pirated
"Yahoo is facing a lot of competition in China from local
search engines and portals, and with Baidu's music service
being so popular they need to start offering the same services
to keep up," says Vivek Couto, executive director of Hong
Kong-based consulting firm Media Partners Asia.
The Yahoo China operation is no stranger to controversy.
According to human-rights group Amnesty International, Yahoo
provided account-holder information on journalist Shi Tao to
Chinese state authorities who had accused Shi in April 2004 of
"illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" by
using his Yahoo e-mail account to send an e-mail to the United
States. Shi is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.
By: Tim Culpan
Copyright 2006 Reuters.
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