On-line music regulations questioned

Updated: 2006-12-17 16:49

BEIJING - China's army of Internet users and operators are beginning to question the practicality and purpose of new controls on network - mostly on-line - music.

"Network music" refers to music distributed by wired or wireless means, including music played or downloaded from the Internet, and provided by mobile phone servers and through cable TV and satellite communication.

The "Guidelines on the Development and Management of Network Music" issued last week by the Ministry of Culture have the stated purpose of preventing problems, such as poor quality, pirated uploads and downloads,and content that "offends" ethnic groups or "affects social stability".

"Network music based on music products copied or composed by netizens for non-profit purposes must be monitored more closely," said the ministry, which called for a "civilized and healthy network culture".

It requires distributors to register all domestic music and songs spread by network without legal distribution approval from the ministry before March 1, 2007.

Wang Xiaofeng, chief writer of Lifeweek Magazine and a popular blogger, wrote in his blog that the standards of Internet users - and not regulative orders - were the best to judge the quality of on-line music.

He claimed that fighting piracy and copyright infringement was the work of copyright authorities, not cultural authorities, and argued that society was not so vulnerable that it could be affected by a few songs.

Many people doubted the ministry's ability to vet the huge quantity of music distributed through the Internet, and the examination would delay the distribution of good music.

Wang said, "At least 500 new songs appear every day, and it would take a long time for the ministry to examine them. When they are eventually approved, the songs would have missed their time to become popular."

An article carried by the Shanghai Youth Daily said on-line music was "grassroots" music as anyone with talent and skill could spread their music through the Internet. But the long delays and possible costs of examination and approval would kill most good work from the outset and hinder the development of network music.

A chief operator of a large Internet portal told the People's Daily that it was awaiting further details from the ministry on how to regulate the music products of ordinary people.

The guidelines also require all imported network music products distributed in China to be approved and registered by the ministry.

"Any person or organization which distributes imported network music without approval will be punished by the cultural authorities, and their websites will be dealt with by communication departments in accordance with law," it said.

This requirement confused some music websites, who said they already had approval from copyright authorities - not cultural authorities.

Many Internet users have speculated that the regulations and other government influence over the Internet were aiming for profits.

According to the Cultural Ministry's website, last year, the total value of China's network music market reached 2.78 billion yuan (348 million U.S. dollars), up 61 percent over the previous year. It is estimated that the market will grow by 50 percent this year.

However, regardless of motive, the administration of the network needed more advanced and practical methods and ideas, and not simply regulations and orders, said some postings.

"Network music is a growing cultural phenomenon that shortens the distance between listeners and singers and supplements the content of commercial music. I hope the guidelines will boost - and not hinder - its development," said Hainan University associate professor Wang Lin.

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