Google is to introduce an online music search engine as it struggles to compete in China, according to local news reports.
China's leading search engine, Baidu, has attracted a huge audience for its MP3 search engine that many use to find pirated music online.
While the service would be offered by Google China, it would theoretically be accessible worldwide in common with all other Google China sites.
However, the news comes as Baidu is apparently strengthening blocks on foreign access to its MP3 and audio file search features, following repeated legal challenges from international music companies.
Initially the service was widely accessible outside China and many foreign music fans used it to find free and easily downloadable pirated MP3 copies of popular Western music.
Chinese news sites Sina and 163.com both reported yesterday that Google was planning an MP3 or music search engine for China.
The websites did not identify the source of the information, but implied that the service would begin within the next two weeks.
A spokesperson for Google China apparently confirmed the plans but said that Google wanted approval from record labels before going ahead, according to comments reported by the government-controlled Xinhua news agency.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents major record labels, claimed earlier this year that China's music business is based on "blatant violation of copyright laws".
The IFPI made the statements as it renewed a legal assault on several companies, including Baidu, Sohu and Yahoo China, which it accused of committing "mass copyright infringement".
Record labels have called on advertisers to boycott Baidu over the piracy claims.
Baidu dominates China's search market with a share approaching 70 per cent compared to about 20 per cent for Google.
The Baidu MP3 search engine, which finds links to music files, has long been seen as one of its advantages over Google in China.
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