Implications of Grokster for Search Engines

One of my partners just alerted me to a posting on The Deal about Blog Searching:

If you need any more evidence that search doesn’t end with Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., look at the blog search engines. Technorati Inc., the self-proclaimed leader, IceRocket, Mark Cuban’s new venture, and Feedster Inc., another blog search pioneer, are just a few of the examples of a segment within search poised for growth.

Scott Rafer, CEO of Feedster, told me that Google and Yahoo! go about search in completely different ways. See the video interview for more on that. He added that search companies are closely watching the aftermath of the Grokster case. That’s because the Supreme Court ruling on illegal music downloads could affect search companies directing people to sites guilty of copyright infringement or other illegal activities. Just look at Chinese search engine Baidu Inc.’s IPO filing for proof of their concern.

And when I asked him why it takes so long to return search results for blogs after entering a term and clicking the search button, he explained that it’s just a question of resources on the back-end and not a technological challenge. That’s good news for those awaiting faster results.

I find it hard to imagine that a search engine could have secondary liability for infringement, and more than an indexer or cataloguer could. Each of them may promote access to infringing works, but all they are doing is reflecting the world as it is – or is that Grokster’s argument which is now off limits?’s filing with the SEC on July 12, 2005 as found at reveals the following risk factor analysis.

We may face intellectual property infringement claims and other related claims, particularly in light of the recent Grokster decision, that could be time-consuming and costly to defend and may result in our inability to continue providing certain of our existing services.

Internet, technology and media companies are frequently involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement of intellectual property rights, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation and other violations of third-party rights. The validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property in Internet-related industries, particularly in China, are uncertain and still evolving. In addition, many parties are actively developing and seeking protection for Internet-related technologies, including seeking patent protection. There may be patents issued or pending that are held by others that cover significant aspects of our technologies, products, business methods or services. As we face increasing competition and as litigation becomes more common in China in resolving commercial disputes, we face a higher risk of being the subject of intellectual property infringement claims.

Our products and services link to materials in which third parties may claim ownership of trademarks, copyrights or other rights. From time to time, we may be subject to trademark or copyright infringement or related claims, in China and/or internationally. For example, we provide search engine facilities capable of finding and accessing links to downloadable MP3 music, movies, images and other multimedia files and/or other items hosted on third-party websites, which may be protected by copyright, including search facilities enabling our users to search for MP3 music files in various ways such as by artist, title, or via lists of most-searched-for titles and artists. In the United States, the legal standards for determining indirect liability for copyright infringement have recently been strengthened by the United States Supreme Court in the decision Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., No. 04-480, 2005 WL 1499402 (June 27, 2005), or Grokster. The implications of the Grokster decision for search engine services such as our MP3 search service are uncertain and may increase the risk of legal liability. While we conduct our business operations outside the United States, we cannot assure you that we would not be subject to U.S. copyright laws, including the legal standards established by Grokster. Moreover, we cannot assure you that Grokster will not influence the legal standards for determining indirect copyright infringement in other jurisdictions, including China. In light of Grokster and the associated publicity, copyright owners may monitor their copyrighted materials more closely worldwide and may seek to enforce their rights under theories of indirect liability or otherwise. As a result, we face increased risks of being subject to copyright infringement claims relating to our MP3 search service. Furthermore, this same consideration may also lead to decreased availability of third-party MP3 websites. A significant portion of our traffic is generated by users of our MP3 search service. According to, 22% of our traffic went to, our MP3 search platform, as of July 9, 2005. Should we face (as a result of the foregoing considerations or otherwise) a need or decision to substantially modify, limit, or terminate our MP3 search service, our business, financial condition or results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.

In addition, as do many Internet websites, we host certain song lyrics on our websites which may be protected by copyright. As a result, we may be subject to copyright infringement claims. We have received several notice letters from parties asserting trademark and copyright infringement claims against us. Moreover, we may be subject to administrative actions brought by the PRC State Copyright Bureau for alleged copyright infringement, and as a result may be subject to fines and/or other penalties and be required to discontinue infringing activities. In addition, we provide links to images of celebrities and other persons, and may face claims for misappropriation of publicity rights. Finally, since a substantial portion of our search results links to MP3 files and other materials in which third parties may claim to own trademarks, copyrights or publicity rights and since we host certain song lyrics on our websites which may be protected by copyright, we may be required to change our business model and service offerings to minimize this risk, which would adversely affect our business prospects.

Intellectual property litigation is expensive and time consuming and could divert resources and management attention from the operations of our business. We were recently named as a defendant in two copyright infringement suits in China in connection with our MP3 and movie search services, respectively, and the courts have not ruled on these cases. See “Business—Legal Proceedings.? If there is a successful claim of infringement, we may be required to pay substantial fines and damages or enter into royalty or license agreements that may not be available on commercially acceptable terms, if at all. Our failure to obtain a license of the rights on a timely basis could harm our business. Any intellectual property litigation could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.

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