A group of activists are hoping to appeal a U.S. judge’s ruling that treated the censorship on Chinese search engine Baidu as free speech.
In making the ruling, District Judge Jesse Furman equated the censorship to a newspaper exercising its editorial right to publish what it wants. But Stephen Preziosi, lawyer for the eight pro-democracy activists, said in an email Saturday that the comparison was wrong, and that the court had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of how search engines work.
The appeal is planned to be filed later this week, Preziosi wrote.
In 2011, the eight activists filed a lawsuit, claiming that Baidu violates U.S. free speech laws by censoring pro-democracy works on its search engine for users in New York.
But last Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit, and ruled that Baidu had the right to create a search engine that favors certain political speech over another.
Newspapers have to manage costs and spacing on the paper in selecting what they publish, but search engines operate by indexing all content on the Web, Preziosi said. In Baidu’s case, the company worked to “proactively” exclude the pro-democracy works from its search engine, he added.
“This constitutes the denial of the right to freedom of speech,” Preziosi said.
Baidu has declined to comment. But as a company operating in China, Baidu must follow the nation’s strict rules on censorship, including the blocking of content deemed inflammatory or anti-government.
As Baidu can also be accessed outside its home country, Preziosi said the search engine is helping to bring Chinese censorship to the U.S. “Those anti-democratic policies are being foisted upon people within the United States,” he added.
But lawyers representing Baidu have called Thursday’s ruling a victory for free speech rights.
“It shows that our courts protect the right of all media to choose what they publish,” said attorney Carey Ramos in a statement on Friday. “That right extends to Internet media as well as print media. And it protects Chinese media as much as American media.”