On May 18th, 2011, eight New York authors filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking $16 million in damages from Baidu, China’s leading search engine. The plaintiffs allege that Baidu is proactively censoring their works from the results of web-searches initiated in the U.S. in violation of their constitutional right of free speech. Interestingly, the lawsuit also lists the Chinese state as co-defendant contending that the censorship is being done “in co-operation with and according to [China’s] policies and regulations”.
Commentators generally agree that the lawsuit has little chance of success for a variety of reasons. One major hurdle is that the U.S. Constitution does not afford protection against the actions of foreign states or private companies except in the rarest of circumstances. Additionally there is no recognized obligation for a search engine to return particular results. Finally, it is unlikely that either Baidu or the Chinese state fall under the jurisdiction of the New York court.
Although a courtroom victory appears unlikely, this case does put the issue of Internet censorship in China back into the limelight, similar to when Google ceased operating in mainland China in March 2010.
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