* Pro-democracy activists alleged suppression of speech
* Judge says Baidu can be served via its U.S.-based lawyer
* Plaintiffs have 120 days to serve China
By Jonathan Stempel
June 10 A U.S. judge has given a lawsuit by
pro-democracy activists against Baidu Inc and the
People's Republic of China new life, even after the country
invoked its authority as a sovereign nation to block the
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan said the
activists were entitled to serve their lawsuit on Baidu's lawyer
in New York, without infringing China's sovereign protections.
Saying the issue had never been analyzed in detail, Furman
on Friday night rejected Baidu's contention that allowing
service would turn the part of the Hague Convention that China
invoked into a "dead letter" by letting a court circumvent it.
The convention is a multilateral treaty that makes it easier
to serve court papers internationally.
In their May 2011 lawsuit, eight New York writers and video
producers had accused Baidu and China of conspiring to suppress
their political speech from Baidu's search engine, the country's
most widely used.
The plaintiffs said the content could be found via search
engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing, and Google's
YouTube. They sought millions of dollars in damages for alleged
violations of their First Amendment rights and human rights law.
Furman had dismissed the lawsuit on March 25 but put the
dismissal on hold to let the plaintiffs propose another means to
In giving the plaintiffs another chance to pursue their
case, Furman said the Hague Convention was designed to ensure
"sufficient" notice to recipients abroad of court documents.
Allowing service in the United States "in a manner that does
not call upon China to effect service (in that country) does not
override its invocation of its own sovereignty and security; to
the contrary, it honors that invocation," the judge wrote.
Carey Ramos, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
representing Baidu, declined to comment.
Furman gave the plaintiffs 30 days to serve the complaint to
Baidu's U.S. lawyer, and 120 days to serve China through
Stephen Preziosi, a lawyer for the activists, said he
intends to meet those deadlines. "In terms of fairness and
procedurally, the court got it right," Preziosi said.
The lawsuit was filed one year after Google Inc
pulled its search engine out of China after hitting censorship
issues. China has also blocked YouTube and social networking
sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The case is Zhang et al v. Baidu.com et al, U.S. District
Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-03388.