Ctrip Flexes Its Chinese Search Engine Muscle In Beijing Court

Internet travel search website Qunar.com says the People's Court of Haidian District in Beijing has failed to come to a decision regarding the case filed by China's top travel website Ctrip.com in which Ctrip contends that Qunar willfully broke copyright regulations pertaining to Ctrip.

Qunar claims Ctrip is attempting to claim that Qunar's Internet search, partial display and linking back to Ctrip's web site of user-generated comments constitute a rights violation. Having failed in their requests to have Qunar desist from this practice, Ctrip decided to take the issue to the courts, filing in August 2008.

According to Qunar, Ctrip's attorney states that user-generated comments, as originally posted on Ctrip's web site, belong to Ctrip, and as such are copyrighted. It is therefore their belief that Qunar has the legal obligation to cease and desist from the practice of searching, partially displaying and linking back to Ctrip's web site, while also covering the costs of litigation that amount to CNY1,000.

Qunar says that no copyright laws have been broken. Qunar's attorney states that there are three clear reasons why Qunar has not violated any copyright laws. First, what Qunar provided is only a crawl of user-generated comments rather than a full reprinting, which is consistent with practices followed by search engines in China and other countries. Also, Qunar sources user-generated comments from various travel websites, including Ctrip's rival eLong.com. Additionally, there is no clear statement by Ctrip nor do its user terms and conditions declare in any way that user-generated comments are copyrighted. And finally, Qunar claims that such user-generated comments by their very nature can not be constituted as copyrightable works.

Ctrip had previously also brought a lawsuit against Qunar to the Administration for Industry and Commerce at the beginning of 2007, demanding that Qunar remove its advanced price comparison tool from its website. In the same year, Shanghai Lanbao Travel Service Co., Ltd. was also accused of a rights violation and was asked by Ctrip to delete relative information. At the time of the Lanbao case, there was a comment released in the Chinese domestic media pointing out that Ctrip, as an industry pioneer, is compelled to "protect itself from enemies everywhere" due to fierce competition in the online travel industry.

Neither company has released details on the next steps in this case.