Recently, China's Ministry of Culture (MoC) ordered that music sites obtain approval from censors for all foreign music distributed over the Internet. This initiative will have an immediate impact on businesses selling recorded music in China. Although this is not a traditional step to attack piracy, it appears that copyright violations, along with quandaries arising from distributors "intermingling good and bad content" are the targets of this MoC directive. The Chinese government's hope in adopting this tougher stance is that the directive will put an end to music piracy which has been described as "rampant" in China.
The new rule requires that all music (recorded outside mainland China) be submitted to the MoC by the end of the year. Online distributors must provide written lyrics for each song which must be translated into Chinese. The distributors must also provide proof, "Right of Digital Network Dissemination Rights" (licensing agreements), that they are not infringing on intellectual property rights and have the right to distribute that music online. Taking it one step further, if a company wants to offer music downloads, it must apply for a license to do so. There is an online registration system with a fast track mechanism to approve music within 20 days, as well as an expedited process that allows for approval within three days. Interestingly, the MoC is not the main governmental agency tasked with enforcing copyright protection in China, begging the question of whether this new directive is actually aimed at combating piracy or regulating and asserting control over the Internet.
The impact on search engines like Google, Inc., Baidu, Inc. (which is China based), and Yahoo China remains to be seen. The regulation is supposed to apply to companies that offer links to music, not just companies that host music. Search engines will need an "Online Cultural Business" license to link to music and also approval to distribute music cleared (or "audited") by the MoC. (Baidu has frequently been the target of criticism for providing links to unlicensed music.) Commentators on the new policy wonder how search engines will comply with the requirement to provide documentation for every song yielded by a search request.
Overall, this new regulation provides a huge bureaucratic task for Chinese MoC officials to complete by the end of the year, but if implemented as described, there is great potential in the form of curbing music piracy. Perhaps 2010 will bring a new, more regulated and IP friendly music industry in China.