The U.S. court has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Baidu and the Chinese government for censoring the Internet and violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman on Tuesday said the defendants had not been properly served with court papers, and China had pointed to an international treaty which stated that doing so would infringe its sovereignty.
The lawsuit was first filed in May 2011 by eight New York-based pro-democracy activists, including writers and video producers, who accused Baidu--China's biggest search engine--and its government for censoring search results. According to a Reuters report, the suit said Baidu acted as an "enforcer" of policies by the Chinese government, filtering pro-democracy content such as the 1989 Tiananmem Square protests.
The plaintiffs alleged such censorship violated the First Amendment as well as human rights laws, and blocking search results which could be found through other search engines such as Google and Yahoo amounted to millions of dollars in damages. Specifically, they had sought US$16 million in damages.
China's Foreign Ministry then said foreign courts had no jurisdiction, according to international laws, over the way the Chinese government managed the Internet which is a sovereign matter and was in accordance with global norms.
In his dismissal on Wednesday, Furman said there was "plainly no merit" that the defendants were properly served. China, he added, had invoked a Hague Convention provision which allowed the country to refuse service which would "infringe its sovereignty or secruity".
He also noted a lack of jurisdiction on his part to determine if China had properly invoked this provision, and even if he did, this provision would also apply to private entities such as Baidu.
Furman's dismissal has been put on hold for 30 days to provide the plaintiffs an opportunity to propose another means of serving Baidu as well as demonostrate why China should not be dismissed as a defendant.
Baidu accounts for about 80 percent of China's search market.
China is widely known for its "Great Firewall" which filters content based on what the ruling government deems objectionable. Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed in China. Citizens, though, have been known to circumvent the blocks by using virtual private networking (VPN) and proxy services.
Google in 2010 moved its search engine to Hong Kong in order to continue providing uncensored Chinese-language search services.