Yahoo China must remove links to 229 songs and pay 201,000 yuan in damages and court fees, a mainland court ruled yesterday in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by leading music companies.
Beijing Intermediate People's Court made the judgment against the mainland arm of Yahoo Inc, the country's third-most-popular search engine.
The recording companies that sued in January included international music heavyweights EMI, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music and Universal Music. They claimed Yahoo China allowed illegal downloads of their songs by providing links to unlicensed music in its music search service.
Yahoo China said it would appeal against the ruling.
'We are very happy with the result, especially the court ruling that Yahoo China has to take down the links to the infringed songs,' said Mayseey Leong, regional director for Asia of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the industry group that represented the recording companies.
The companies' victory came after a failed bid against Baidu's music search services in a similar case filed with the Beijing court in 2005.
Ms Leong attributed the triumph to an internet regulation passed on the mainland in July 2006. 'In Yahoo China's case, we are able to seek liability under the new regulation,' she said. 'For the Baidu case, we could not use the new law, as the case was filed in September 2005.'
Besides Baidu and Yahoo China, other Chinese search engines, such as Sina's iAsk, Sohu's Sogou and Zhongsou, operate similar music search services, which are magnets to teenage internet users looking for free entertainment. 'We are going to take action against similar music linking services,' Ms Leong said. 'The court's decision yesterday is a step in the right direction. It will help China to grow legitimate online music business.'
In its statement after the decision, Yahoo said the case 'has far-reaching implications for all search engines. An important principle is at stake in this case - that search engine operators should not be held liable for content posted on third-party websites'.
Baidu used the same argument in winning in its cases against the music companies last November. The music companies are appealing against that decision.
While the music companies attributed yesterday's triumph to the new regulation, an industry source said politics were at play.
'The decision came just before April 26, the international intellectual property rights [IPR] day,' the source said. 'And the US government is pushing China with IP infringement issues. I think the decision is more for political than legal reasons.'