China's largest search engine Baidu is deleting millions of documents from its online library platform, in response to growing criticism from a group of authors that the company offers pirated copies of their works.
Baidu evaluated about 2.8 million files in the library's literary works category, deleting most of the files, according to spokesman Kaiser Kuo. The company continues to delete files as it processes other sections of the library.
Baidu Library, or Baidu Wenku as it is known in Chinese, allows users to upload documents to the site to share them. This has drawn complaints that the platform is a hotbed for piracy. In mid-March, the site held more than 20 million documents, but now the total has fallen to 16.5 million. The literary works category currently contains a mere 1,231 files.
Baidu launched the online library at the end of 2009, prompting a stream of complaints. Those concerns, however, turned into a public outcry earlier this month when a group of 40 Chinese writers released a letter slamming Baidu for the piracy on the site.
While the authors continue to express their dismay with the search giant, Baidu hopes its recent action to rid the site of piracy will show its critics that the company is intent on protecting intellectual property.
"We hope that authors and publishers will recognize this as a sign of good faith and of the seriousness of our intention to keep infringing materials off the site going forward," Kuo said in an e-mail.
Baidu is China's largest search engine with a 75.5 percent market share, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. But the company has faced numerous allegations that the site supports online piracy.
For years, Baidu's MP3 search has been accused of providing links to illegal songs hosted on third party sites, with a recent U.S. government report naming Baidu as a "notorious market." But the MP3 search service continues to operate and has so far withstood lawsuits.
Baidu's MP3 service has not been shut down because it only searches the Web for what music links are already available, said Mark Natkin, the managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. In contrast, Baidu Library actively stores and hosts all the documents uploaded to the site, making the company responsible for its contents, he said.
The uproar has also drawn the attention of Chinese authorities such as the General Administration of Press and Publication, forcing Baidu to take action, Natkin said: "Baidu is remarkable adroit at gauging exactly where the line is and knowing when it needs to step back."
During a conference held earlier this week, Baidu CEO Robin Li said the company would pull the plug on the library platform if it could not be managed correctly.
But Natkin said he doesn't expect the problems with Baidu Library to reach that point, considering the measures the company is already taking. "I would not be surprised to see Baidu navigate this without having to shut down (Baidu) Wenku," he said.