Publicity surrounds Chinese site reusing Wikipedia content
Media reports last week focused on a new project from Chinese search engine company Baidu, which has taken advantage of the blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China to offer its own encyclopedia catering to that country. This encyclopedia borrows heavily from Wikipedia, but censors the content in accordance with the laws of the People's Republic of China.
Baidu's stock, which is traded on the NASDAQ exchange, spiked upward last Tuesday after the company posted an increase in its quarterly profit and made a statement anticipating strong revenue growth. The financial press picked up on this news and also made note of the recent launch of Baidu Baike, its encyclopedia site originally started April 20. Widespread subsequent reports in the general media tended to focus primarily on this encyclopedia and draw comparisons to Wikipedia.
Although some headlines went so far as to call it a "Chinese Wikipedia", Baidu Baike is neither a Wikipedia (that term being a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation) nor even really a wiki. It does allow user submissions, but these are moderated before being posted as part of the site's general adherence to PRC restrictions on internet content. The effect might more accurately be compared to Encarta, which introduced an "edit" option for its readers last year in which changes are reviewed by Encarta editors (see archived story).
The Baidu Baike home page now reports a number of over 120,000 articles, less than a month after the site's launch. This is already nearly double the number of articles in the Chinese Wikipedia, access to which remains blocked in mainland China. In order to build this content base, Baidu has apparently copied from a number of sources, not just the Chinese Wikipedia, and including some unusual choices (one Wikipedia editor reported that it was also taking content from the Uncyclopedia parody site).
The media coverage prompted extensive discussion among Wikipedia editors about the situation, including what to do about the block as well as whether Baidu Baike was violating Wikipedia license terms and how this should be dealt with. Jimmy Wales reiterated the position that the block of Wikipedia is an error on the part of those responsible. Regarding the copying, he observed that Baidu is welcome to copy from Wikipedia if it complies with the license terms. He added that many Wikipedia mirror sites make mistakes in this regard initially, but can change as they learn how to improve this.
Developer Tim Starling noted that the publicity blitz appeared to coincide with a crackdown on some of the circumvention methods that have allowed internet users in mainland China to access Wikipedia in spite of the block. Wales said the Wikimedia Foundation "neither encourages nor discourages" efforts to get around the block.