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Ministry to pop lovers: Don’t be dirty

  • Source: Global Times
  • [23:56 September 14 2009]
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China has 29 million Internet music lovers, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. Online copyright music is flooding the Internet free listening and download market. Photo: CFP

As Marshall Bruce Mathers III raps inside the heavy headphones attached to his bobbing head, 22-year-old Xu Tao is lapping up his favorite rapper's latest album from off his laptop. He copies the music web address from a Baidu search engine and pastes it to an online forum.

Within an hour and just as Xu expected, the web page receives more than 100 hits. That's how he and other rap fans usually find new songs before an album finally goes on sale on the Chinese mainland. For the Chinese mainland's 29 million Internet music lovers, and most especially international music fans like Xu, an order has descended from the Ministry of Culture that may snuff out the fun.

Not only that, but it might soon be scarcely possible to – legally – download Eminem's album at major Chinese digital music websites. That is, unless Eminem drops his entertaining habit of insulting celebrities with expletive-laden lyrics or making anatomically intriguing suggestions for their preferred sexual activities.

All imported online albums must now be translated and those translations filed with the government. The Ministry of Culture have ordered a cleanup of the online music market that will require digital music providers to first obtain official approval from the ministry for any foreign song they distribute on the Internet.

The ministry announced on its website that it aims at addressing "poor taste and vulgar content", "illegal content or unlicensed" as well as copyright violations and a general "lack of supervision and regulation over market behavior."

China Internet Network Information Center statistics suggest that 90.7 percent of the Internet music audience is aged between 10 and 29, and more than 90.1 percent of Internet music users are school students. The new measures will standardize online music and ward off its negative influences on young people, according to the ministry.

  

Source: China Internet Network Information Center

        

Source: China Internet Network Information Center

Baidu, the leading Chinese search engine, responded the same day by welcoming the measures as conducive to standardizing online music.

"Baidu has gained approval from the Ministry of Culture. Baidu will comply with local rules and regulations to boost a flourishing digital music market," read the announcement.

Four days later, Baidu launched an altered appearance to its music search engine. Although no changes were made to its external links through which online songs can be downloaded.

Xu Tao, however, is unimpressed.

"The regulation will erect barriers to fans of foreign music like me," he said. "I'm afraid we will not be able to download songs when they are fresh and debut.

"But for professional music people, I don't think the regulation will affect them as they have their own connections abroad. It's not hard for them to get the music they want to hear."

Not only Xu doubts the new measure, Chen Jiao, managing editor of the Guangzhou-based Modern Computer Magazine, can outline six key concerns.

"Firstly, the announcement doesn't specify who should be responsible for filing the review: the online music provider, the online music operator or the music publisher. Secondly, this regulation stipulates a deadline of December 31. It's unclear whether the measure will be enforced before or after this deadline.

"Thirdly, will peer-to-peer music sharing software be regulated by the announcement as well? Fourthly, does a music search engine which provides music links have to obey the rule? How about a video website? Are individuals also governed by the rule?" Chen said.

A Ministry of Culture spokesman told the Global Times that the ministry would not review Internet user-generated content including songs or performances composed, recorded or uploaded by individuals.

The Ministry of Culture released a similar announcement three years ago, according to Chen. The 2006 announcement required online music providers to set up a file number after they obtained permission from the ministry, but this announcement was not fully enforced, with only a few large websites applying for the number.

"So it's unclear whether the announcement will be enforced," Chen said. "But I believe this enforcement itself will only invigorate large websites while relaxing control over small ones."

The ministry told the Global Times that the new announcement has taken into account the needs and requirements of the whole industry and was "welcomed by most website providers because it's practical and clearly defined the review procedure."

The announcement uses "abstract terms", Zhou Xiaozheng, a Renmin University, Beijing, professor told the Global Times: "vulgar", "illegal" or "poor taste" are too subjective.

"Anyone can form their own judgment," he said.

Whether welcomed or not, the announcement should not interfere with the fundamental rights of Internet users, Zhou said.

"The right to learn the truth, the right of participation, the right to freedom of expression and the right of supervision have been mentioned by the central government on many occasions. Any regulations should stick to this fundamental doctrine."

"I hope during the process of carrying out this announcement, those rights of the individual will not be infringed," he said.

Since Google and Yahoo have not yet reportedly responded to the announcement nor has any domestic website made any meaningful changes, Xu said he had yet to experience any noticeable difference or inconvenience in his music life.

"They say the devil has all the best songs," Xu said.

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