Copyright rules strengthened

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CHINA'S NATIONAL COPYRIGHT Administration (NCA) has issued a statement urging online streaming services to stop providing unlicensed music to users. On Thursday 9th July, the copyright regulator announced that online streaming providers have until the end of July to remove any unlicensed music and that stricter rules will be enforced. According to the order, those who do not follow will be heavily fined or shut down, though how newer regulations will affect the music streaming industry is still unclear.

Enforcement of protection of intellectual property (IP) rights and copyright is notoriously difficult in the PRC. More widespread use of the internet in China has led to a significant increase in the number of standard copyright violations in recent years. According to reports conducted by the Swiss-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, an estimated 95% of music sales in China are unauthorized. Currently, no official online music service that sells copyrighted music - such as iTunes - exists in China. To obtain unauthorized copies of music or other files, many users rely on peer-to-peer platforms that are difficult to track.

Free music streaming is widely available on Chinese smart phone apps such as Xiaomi Music (backed by Alibaba), QQ Music (backed by Tencent), as well as Baidu - the world's second-largest search engine after Google and the largest search engine in China. In the past, under pressure from the Standardization Administration of China (SAC), Baidu has removed more than 500,000 illicit documents and set up a “green channel” for dealing with grievances of copyright owners in real-time.

Movement for stricter regulations falls under China’s special campaign “Sword Net Action” set up initially in October 2010 to curb internet copyright piracy. Since 2010, the campaign has targeted several hundred websites and administrators for infringement of copyright in industrial standards and online piracy. Recent campaigns such as Sword Net Action seek to not only eliminate copyright infringement, but also to leverage world standards of intellectual material within China.

China has issued prosecutions in the past for copyright infringement. In 2014 evidence issued by China’s Public Security Ministry and the NCA showed that an individual had sold over 100,000 pirated copies of International Standards. Late last year in October, the individual was sentenced to three years in jail, a four-year probation, and a fine of US$30,000 for copyright infringement. Such measures are expected to be even more drastic with NCA’s most recent announcement.

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