As search engine for Chinese mega portal Sohu, Sogou presents a familiar sight for Chinese internet music searchers: Instant, well ordered lists of direct “deep links” to MP3 search results, purportedly hosted on third party sites, available for free download.
Rights owners have typically been excluded from any revenue from ads sold around these search results, meaning that MP3 search represents the single greatest villain in the Chinese internet music space.
As populariser of this format - and with roughly 80% of the Chinese search market - Baidu.com played the role of public enemy number one until it’s 2011 deal with the majors saw the (then) big four’s catalogues made available legally through Baidu’s Ting streaming service (now rolled into “Baidu Music”). The deal also saw the majors drop any existing actions against the search giant.
Yesterday saw a similar - if not much smaller - result coming out of Beijing’s High People’s Court in which Universal, Warner, Sony and (China EMI international licensees) Gold Typhoon have agreed to drop existing/future actions against Sogou.com in return for a licensing arrangement and a contribution towards an IFPI anti piracy fund.
This dropping of existing/future actions in return for what will most likely be a flat advance (read: buyout) - a component common to both agreements - highlights the crude nature of dealing in this most grey of spaces. Rights owners are simply happy with the payday (smash and grab?) after years of frustration, including the failure of the fully legitimate Google Music MP3 search.
These MP3 search licensing deals are unique to the territory: Rights owners conceding that full track downloads are (at least for the moment) necessarily free to the consumer. Announcements are occasionally accompanied by an unhelpful “peace for our time" commentary, suggesting that the future has arrived already. The reality is that they should be read as reluctant interim concessions from desperate rights owners.