US District Judge Jesse Furman of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the Chinese web services company Baidu has the right to block pro-democracy works from its query results.
In so doing, he dismissed a lawsuit originally filed in 2011 by eight activists in New York that claimed the Chinese search engine was violating US laws on free speech. The activists claimed Baidu had been censoring pro-democracy works on its search engine for both its users in China and also for those accessing the site from New York. The lawsuit demanded Baidu pay $16 million in damages.
Furman compared Baidu's blocking of pro-democracy works to a newspaper's right to exercise editorial control over stories it publishes. He said Baidu had created a search engine that favors certain political speech.
"The First Amendment protects Baidu's right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects Plaintiffs' rights to advocate for democracy," wrote Furman.
Baidu is also not stopping US users from accessing the pro-democracy works through other search engines such as Google or Bing.
The law firm representing Baidu said the ruling was a victory for the free speech rights of Internet search engines. The ruling shows that US courts protect the right of all media to choose what they publish and that this right extends to Internet media as well as print media. It also protects Chinese media as much as American media.
Baidu is China's largest search engine, with a 60 percent market share. It is, however, required to comply with China's strict regulations over Internet content. Google obeyed these rules for a time but in 2010 decided to close its China-based search engine.