Baidu.com Inc., which operates China's most popular Internet search engine, may be the worst violator of Wikipedia copyrights, the chair of the foundation behind popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia said Sunday, as she asked the company again to give credit where credit is due.
The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. has no plans to take Baidu to court -- the group has never sued a copyright violator -- but it is asking more publicly for the Chinese search company to respect its copyright license by simply attributing Wikipedia entries that have been copied on Baidu Baike, the company's Chinese language Web encyclopedia.
"They do not respect the license at all," said Florence Nibart-Devouard, chair of the Board of Trustees at the Wikimedia Foundation, during an interview at the Wikimania 2007 conference in Taipei. "That might be the biggest copyright violation we have. We have others," she added.
Baidu Baike's rivals in China have also requested the company comply on the copyright issue. Hoodong.com, which develops Chinese-language wiki collaboration software and operates its own online encyclopedia in China, has been monitoring Baidu Baike for some time, said founder Pan Haidong, and has started capturing screen shots of violations as proof.
Baidu could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wikipedia editors have asked several times for Baidu to cite it when using Wikipedia content, but have received no replies nor seen any improvement from the Chinese company. Usually, an e-mail explaining Wikipedia's copyright license is enough to prompt most companies to respect it, but not in this case.
That's a problem for Wikipedia because not only is Baidu Baike the largest online Chinese-language encyclopedia, it contains more articles than any Wikipedia except the English-language Wikipedia. Baidu Baike boasted 809,237 entries as of Sunday, edging out the German edition of Wikipeida, which has 619,612 entries, for second place. The Chinese version of Wikipedia hosts 139,131 articles.
Wikipedia also finds it difficult to compete against Baidu Baike due to strict censorship laws in China. The Chinese and English language versions of Wikipedia face being blocked in China without notification nor explanation. Currently, the English site is available to users in China, although the Chinese-language site remains inaccessible.
"Since we are blocked in China, Wikipedia exists only on one other Web site there, and it is not ours," said Nibart-Devouard.
Baidu Baike faces the same restrictions on content, but operates in such a way as to avoid problems with Chinese authorities. Anyone wishing to publish entries on Baidu Baike must register first, giving the site people's real names, and site administrators review all entries before posting, a way to ensure compliance with Chinese censorship laws.
All entries published on Wikipedia fall under the GNU Free Documentation License, which allows other organizations a wide range of uses of the material, including for-profit publishing, with a few stipulations. Anyone using the material, particularly word-for-word copies and mirror Web sites, need to say the material came from Wikipedia.
By contrast, Baidu said all content generated on Baike becomes the property of Baidu. But the encyclopedia, which like Wikipedia relies on users for entries, also expressly warns users not to cut and paste other people's work, insists that all copyright laws be respected, and asks that sources used in all entries be properly cited. It expressly tells users that any contributions which quote works held under the GNU Free Documentation License, which Wikipedia uses, must follow the restrictions on that license.
Going forward, the Wikimedia Foundation plans to continue to try to communicate its issues with Baidu. A Chinese-language chapter of the foundation was created in August, which could more closely monitor Baidu Baike, point out and document any violations of Wikipedia's copyright policies. But beyond that, the foundation has no plans to use legal means to resolve the issue, mainly because legal issues are technically difficult.
"The foundation does not hold a copyright on the articles, the editors or the authors do, so there is very little we can do," said Nibart-Devouard, although she said that if pushed, the foundation could try some kind of class-action. In the meantime, the foundation will continue trying to nicely ask for its content on Baidu Baike to be properly cited as having come from Wikipedia, and will seek other peaceful methods to resolve the issue.