Chinese search giant Baidu in some US legal (bai)doo-doo

This is clever.

So a few years ago Google enters China and is put under a global grilling lamp on whether or not it will adhere to local laws regarding censorship and its search results. Don’t Be Evil held for a little while, but 300+ million Chinese Internet users was bound to make anyone check their morals at the gate eventually. But then, after floundering around in the country for a few years, they largely said, “F this, we’re out!“.

So a few years ago Baidu enters the US market. That the search engine filters search results to suit Beijing goes relatively unnoticed, as does actual usage of the company for anything other than investment purposes. Routinely noise gets made about Baidu distributing copyrighted this and that, and Baidu just as routinely starts blocking access to those functions for visitors coming from outside of China. Happy medium.

Then today a couple folks in Flushing, NY, get a smart idea — if Google was forced to adhere to the laws of China while operating inside the country, shouldn’t Baidu have to adhere to the laws of the US while operating there?

Baidu Inc., owner of China’s most popular search engine, was sued by eight Chinese residents of New York who say the company helps the government censor political expression in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs seek $16 million in damages from the company and the Chinese government after their “writings, publications and coverage of pro-democracy events” were censored and banned from Baidu’s search engine, according to a complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court. They also charge Baidu and China violated New York State civil rights laws.

I firmly believe that both Google and Baidu should be allowed to decide what content their product contains or doesn’t contain, and I don’t particularly feel the government — any government — has the right to tell them what they must or mustn’t include. They are not public services, but businesses, and as such should have the right to run their businesses and their products the way they want. However, I applaud these 海外华人 for having used the US legal system to force open an issue that deserves more attention.

Will (and should?) Baidu, as Google did, bow to the legal pressures in the country they want to operate in and UNcensor content for American users? Will it turn away from expansion and instead push further inward and help march China’s Internet ever closer to becoming an intranet? Will it settle (with help from a suitcase full of RMB that happens to show up on their corporate doorstep) and continue on as before?

Thoughts?