Baidu, the operator of China’s most widely used Internet search engine, has won the dismissal of a United States lawsuit by pro-democracy activists who complained that the company illegally suppressed political speech.
Eight New York writers and video producers had accused Baidu of creating search engine algorithms, at the behest of the Chinese government, to block users in the United States from viewing articles, videos and other information advocating greater democracy in China.
United States District Judge Jesse M. Furman in Manhattan concluded Thursday that the results produced by
Baidu’s search engine constituted protected free speech
under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, warranting dismissal of the lawsuit, filed in May 2011.
“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,” the judge wrote.
Stephen Preziosi, a lawyer for the activists, said his clients would appeal. “The court has laid out a perfect paradox: That it will allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech,” he said in an interview.
The importance of the decision is that Baidu, along with other search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing, has the same editorial rights as print publications and can choose whether or not to publish people’s writings
, said Carey Ramos, of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Baidu’s lead attorney for the case.
“That rights extends to Internet media as well as print media. And it protects Chinese media as much as American media,” Mr. Ramos said. “The plaintiffs sued Baidu saying, ‘You’re violating our First Amendment rights because you don’t include our writings in your search results,’ but the court said, ‘No, you’ve got it backwards, your lawsuit violates Baidu’s First Amendment rights by asking the court to penalize Baidu for not returning the results you want.’ ”