Yesterday, negotiations between several publishing industry representatives and Baidu broke down. In the early stages, Shen Haobo, Lu Jinbo and Hou Xiaoqiang had told me on various occasions that Baidu has been causing damage to the entire publishing industry, to which I responded: “Let’s sue them”. They then said several cases had been brought against them, none of which were won. Baidu has plenty of money and access, in effect they pretty much control the courts. They also have first rate public relations capabilities, so in addition they control what is being said about them by most media outlets. I sighed and wondered: “Could it be that Robin Li’s dad is Li Gang?”
At yesterday’s talks, during which we represented 315 authors, I felt that China’s Written Works Copyright Association should have shown their face, because last time they joined the talks with Google, they were so effective that Google eventually pulled out of the country.
In case you forgot, the Google case went roughly like this: Google at the time had scanned the works of Chinese authors, paying out USD 10 for each book, after which they displayed the table of contents and excerpts online. If a user wanted to read the entire content, paid download was available, and revenue was split between Google and the author. Meanwhile, everyone ignored that all this time Baidu Library had been offering free downloads of full content. Subsequently, Baidu mounted a multilateral attack on Google who was actually respecting copyright. The main thrust of this attack was that before scanning, Google must first obtain the author’s permission. Remembering this episode now, we should all be ashamed. There is a difference between Google and Baidu indeed: Google has a sense of shame, so everyone went out there shaming them. Baidu has no shame, so when people saw there was no shaming to be done, they just shrugged and went back to minding their own business.
Baidu claims that the spirit of the internet is about free goods and sharing. I don’t particularly agree with this point of view. The way I see it, the internet is about freedom and broadcasting. If it were about free goods, then why does Baidu charge for advertisements disguised as search results? If it were about sharing, then why after becoming one of China’s richest people, doesn’t Robin Li share his personal wealth and his company’s assets with the rest of us? Baidu’s business model is that all the goods on offer are free of charge, and because of the huge traffic they make money off advertising. No problem with that, but I sure hope they haven’t forgotten that the producers of these goods also need to earn a living. Baidu then came up with “sharing”. Sharing should be that I donate my goods, you donate yours, and then we all take home what each of us likes best. The problem is that right now, you and me are donating and sharing other people’s goods. That is what Baidu’s free goods and sharing is about.
Baidu came around at exactly the right time, because only in this day and age can you violate the rights of authors, composers and film makers at will. Obviously, more important yet, Baidu also came around in exactly the right country, since only in this country can you still find refuge after violating the rights of almost the entire cultural industry.
Clearly, Baidu has many supporters, and I really understand their point of view. Sometimes buying a book is so much trouble. Sometimes books cost so much money, so you end up going to Baidu and get them for free. Just like I watch pirated DVD’s, download pirated MP3’s on Baidu. But there’s no doubt in my mind: my actions are wrong, and although my transgressions are relatively minor, I certainly won’t try to justify them, much less go insult the rightful owners of these works.
I saw plenty of comments from people who said: “You guys are out of your mind trying to make money, the internet is about sharing. Such poor writing skills and you want to be called authors? You call that literature? Way to go Baidu!”
Dear friends, I intimately understand the predicament of Chinese writers. Most of them need two to three years to finish a single book. For each book they make ten or twenty thousand yuan (USD 1,500 – 3,000). That’s at most 800 yuan (USD 120) per month, my friend. No social security, my friend. And that’s before taxes, my friend. Even more tragic than you, my friend. Except for those few bestselling authors, the overwhelming majority of Chinese writers only make a pittance. Writers of e-books need to churn out 10,000 characters per day, and rely on 2 RMB cents for each 1,000 characters downloaded for their livelihood. Who the hell can still get anything sold these days, my friend. Ten cents for every 5,000 characters downloaded, my friend. Ten cents! A beggar won’t even lift his hand for that, my friend. If you download it for free then suit yourself, but do you really need to add insult to injury and criticize those writers, my friend? And what about our 60 billion yuan (USD 9 billion) main man over there? Please leave some room for the Chinese publishing industry and its authors to earn a living. Any dirty old dire strait will do.
Translated by us.
Original post title: 为了食油，声讨百度