Chinese Search Engine, Baidu.com, Sued by Pro-Democracy Advocates for Allegedly Violating 1st Amendment

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Stephen Preziosi, a New York City appellate attorney, works with pro-democracy advocates from China to seek damages from Baidu.com for allegedly suppressing 1st Amendment rights and to set precedent for ensuring freedom of speech on the Internet

Baidu.com is a publicly traded company that wants to treat the American legal system like a sort of buffet. They want to pick and choose the parts that work in their favor.

Chinese pro-democracy advocates are bringing suit against Baidu.com, the largest search engine in China, for violating 1st Amendment rights and filtering or suppressing their content on the Internet. The claim alleges that the search engine conspires with the Chinese government to censor pro-democracy speech and eliminate references to politically sensitive incidents like the Tiananmen Square Protests.

Baidu.com. is a publically listed company on the NASDAQ and currently ranked third for worldwide search volume. While the majority of its users are located in China, the claim says that it is regularly used in many other countries, leading to a sort of business “border crossing.”

“Baidu is acting as the arm of the Chinese government,” said Stephen Preziosi, the New York City appellate lawyer for the case. “And these polices directly affect the people in the United States that use the service.”

He says that that while Baidu.com raises capitol in the U.S. and has filed law suits in the federal court system to defend its intellectual property, it still claims that its censorship practices are a sovereign matter and therefore does not need to conform to U.S. laws.

“Baidu is a publicly traded company that wants to treat the American legal system like a sort of buffet,” Preziosi said. “They want to pick and choose the parts that work in their favor.”

He cites two elements as the basis for this litigation. The first claim is the violation of the 1st Amendment rights of potentially millions of Chinese speakers in the U.S. and other countries who can only view tightly-controlled results. The second part of the litigation is based on New York Civil Rights and Human Rights laws that do not allow any business that is open to the public to discriminate based on race, creed, religion or political affiliation.

Modern search engines, Stephen Preziosi argues, are a place of public accommodation, just like a restaurant or hotel. If they conduct business within the country, then he says U.S. law has to be applied. While he believes it would be futile to expect Baidu to change their practices, he expressed his hope that the issue will come to the forefront of the discussion in the United States and establish case law and precedent that will ensure the freedom of speech on the Internet.

“Search engines have become the modern-day town square – a place where people go to gather news and information – and Baidu is dictating how it should operate,” he said. “They are telling us what can or cannot be said in our own town square.”

The case is Zhang et al v. Baidu.com Inc et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-03388.

About the Law Office of Stephen Preziosi
Mr. Preziosi established the Appellate Law Firm after years of extensive experience working for law firms in New York City and throughout the state of New York. He now heads the Appellate Practice at his own law firm and is the official “go to” lawyer for a dozens of law firms throughout the state of New York whenever there is a trial or appellate issue that needs thoughtful consideration and insightful exposition.

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