It has been a little over one year since the iTunes Store was blocked in China for the heinous crime of selling the album “Songs for Tibet.” Now The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese government, which hasn’t banned or blocked anything in awhile so are clearly about due, has introduced strict, new rules governing how online music services make foreign songs available to the masses.
To clarify, home-grown Chinese songs aren’t the issue. It’s just those nasty foreign tunes with their subversive, poisonous propaganda that are the problem. Any online service that provides the ability to search for or buy foreign music is affected by the new rules.
Online music sites as well as search engines that provide links to songs will be required to obtain prior approval from the Chinese government for songs recorded outside the country, according to the WSJ. This includes big players like Google, Baidu and Yahoo’s Chinese presence, Alibaba. And it most certainly will affect Apple’s iTunes service, as well.
In a statement from China’s Ministry of Culture, the new measures are designed to:
…weed out bad content, a large amount of unapproved imported music and copyright violations, as well as to establish more supervision and regulation over the market.
Seeking permission and approval is easy. All that’s required is a copy of the lyrics and evidence of the copyright owner’s permission to sell and distribute the songs online. For every single song. Easy. Not a supremely unnecessary pain drain on resources at all.
Even the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) — normally the first to jump up and down with glee at the implementation of efforts to observe artists and record label’s copyrights — aren’t entirely convinced this is the best way to move forward. Neil Turkewitz, RIAA’s executive vice president, International, had this to say:
We understand that China has particular sensitivities about the distribution of content, but introducing new controls on the legitimate delivery of music will do little to address these sensitivities. At present, an estimated 99 percent of the online music accessed by Chinese users is infringing. Hopefully these new regulations will be applied to all services that provide access to music, and not only to the few legitimate services that are providing legal materials.
Turkewitz added, “China should apply and implement these regulations in a careful manner, so that they target copyright violators and don’t become a burden to legitimate providers.”
All this talk of copyright ownership and market regulation is, on the surface, noble and decent and worth applauding. But it’s also a stark reminder that, for big corporations like Apple, Google and Yahoo to continue to do business in that country, they must acquiesce to rules and regulations that, in the West, would be considered completely unacceptable infringements on our rights to freedom of self-expression and commerce.
Certainly, Apple, Google and the rest will do what it takes to continue doing business in China — the market (and the potential revenue it makes possible) is simply too huge to ignore.