China's Ministry of Culture will punish the country's largest search engine Baidu for providing illegal music downloads, according to a report from the state-run Xinhua news agency.
There were no details on what kind of punishment the Chinese search giant would receive. The ministry could not be reached for comment. A total of 14 websites will be punished for providing illegal music downloads, according to the Xinhua report.
Baidu's MP3 search service has long been criticized for providing links to troves of pirated music downloads hosted from third-party sites. In the past, lawsuits have been filed against the Chinese company, but often with minimal results.
However, Baidu has started to change the way it offers online music. Earlier this month, the company announced it would start paying a group representing songwriters for every music download made from the site. Baidu has also said it is working out partnerships with recording agencies to provide music downloads.
But according to the Xinhua news report, Baidu's MP3 search continued to provide illegal music services, even after it was warned repeatedly not to do so.
Baidu said in a statement that the company would remove the links that have been identified by the ministry. "We are aware that songs require approval and have sought to comply with previous notifications from the Ministry of Culture. But search engine indexing is a continuous process and some files may have reappeared in results," the company added.
The crackdown, however, may also have less to do with piracy and more to do with the content of the music.
In January, the ministry issued a notice, providing a list of 100 songs that had not been approved by authorities. Christina Aguilera, Eminem and Bruno Mars were among the artists whose songs were included in the list. The ministry demanded all music sites operating in the country to observe the law and remove the songs.
The end of February was the deadline for removing the songs. In mid-March, the ministry investigated and prosecuted 54 music websites that were still providing the songs.