China's largest search engine Baidu is preparing to offer free legal music downloads, as part of a push by the company to move away from its reputation as a provider of pirated content.
The company will launch the service later this month, a spokeswoman said on Thursday, without giving details of the service.
Baidu has long been criticized for offering an MP3 search that provides links to pirated music hosted on third-party sites. The company did not comment on what shape the existing MP3 search service will now take.
The new service is called Ting, which means "listen" in English. Baidu has mentioned in the past that it is working on partnerships with recording agencies to provide licensed music downloads.
Baidu's MP3 search service helped propel the company to the top, according to experts. The company currently has a 75.8 percent share of China's search engine market, with Google a distant second, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
Last month Baidu took a major step to address the piracy concerns surrounding its music services. It announced it would start paying an agency representing songwriters for every music download on its MP3 search site. The payment would however only go toward compensating the songwriters of the lyrics, but not any major record labels, Baidu said.
Analysts said the move would help improve Baidu's reputation. Earlier this year, a U.S. government report called the search giant a ”notorious market” for providing links to pirated songs.
Baidu is not the first to provide a free legal music service in China. Baidu's rival Google has invested in a Chinese site called Top100.cn, which has signed partnerships with music labels to provide free licensed downloads to songs.