Write or wrong?

Han Han attacks Baidu on behalf of authors

Write or wrong?

Han Han, China’s popular blogger and pop novelist, is about to reach a wider audience, after the New York Times confirmed that he has agreed to be write for the newspaper.

Eileen Murphy, vice president of corporate communications at the New York publication, told the Global Times that Han will write a monthly column for the up-coming syndicate package “China Portfolio,” which will also include columns by other Chinese writers. Han will produce the articles in Chinese and they will be translated into English.

Known for his poison pen, Han Han has made a name for critiquing the Chinese authorities in a veiled manner that appeals to many of the country’s post-1980s’ generation. His blog entries regularly make waves across the country.

“It will be interesting to see what Han’s article will be like when translated into English,” says a netizen going by the name Aimilong.

After his magazine Solo Chorus was shut down early this year (see WiC71), Han has stayed out of the limelight. But after the brief hiatus, he now seems eager for action again, and grabbed headlines for lashing out at Baidu, the country’s biggest search engine late last month.

Han joined 50 other Chinese writers in a high profile protest against the Baidu Wenku document download platform, which the authors say is being used to access their work without permission.

Robin Li, chief executive of Baidu, responded by apologising to the writers, and promising to remove infringing content. He also said that the company would shut down Wenku if problems persisted.

Critics say Baidu has been caught on the frontline of a developing struggle over intellectual property, as the authors try to shift attention onto those that they believe to profit most from lax controls.

“Li’s problem, in other words, is China’s problem, inherited from a time when its consumer market and economic power were small and weak, when there were virtually no significant Chinese brands and no Chinese billionaires,” Gady Epstein of Forbes wrote in his blog.

Han soon pitched in on the public spat, penning two blog posts in recent days that accuse both Baidu and Li of taking money out of writers’ pockets.

“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,” Han thundered. “Obviously, more important still, 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.”

Han did his best to crank up the emotion too, employing the tested them-and-us technique. “We are not envious of riches but we just think: since you’re pretty much swimming in money, why can’t you leave us a few pennies,” he told Baidu. “Must you still wrest intellectual property from our hands?”

It’s not the first time Baidu has been hit with accusations of copyright infringement. The search engine, which also runs a popular MP3 search service, appears regularly on a list of key companies that the Office of the US Trade Representative says are “notorious” sites for piracy. The Recording Industry Association of America has also called Baidu “undoubtedly one of the largest distributors of infringing music in the world.”

But maybe change is on the horizon. Last week Baidu agreed to compensate songwriters belonging to the Music Copyright Society of China, a local music copyright organisation, when users download or stream their songs from Baidu’s website. Baidu and the Music Copyright Society didn’t disclose the financial terms of their deal.

Meanwhile, the angry authors seem to have accepted Baidu’s latest apology, albeit cautiously. Recently published books are now said to be unavailable on the Wenku site, although Han and his peers will be maintaining a watching brief.

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