ArtsWatch: Local Social Media Companies Thrive In China

Government-approved social media networks adopted by more than 130 million users
November 08, 2010 -- 6:51 am PST
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Although Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not available to the public in China, the region has its own social media winners, which benefit from the government's stamp of approval. Kaixin001 is a website similar to Facebook with more than 90 million users and growth estimated at 100,000 new registrations per day. China's semiofficial news network Xinhua began posting on Kaixin001 earlier this year. Weibo is a website similar to Twitter with 40 million users, including leading public figures and celebrities. Communist Party officials and the Beijing Police are using these new tools to spread information and receive feedback. It has been estimated that 420 million people in China use the Internet. In the United States on Nov. 3, Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressed his confidence that government censorship of the Internet in China is doomed. He said, "Ultimately, the people will win over the government. The yearning is so strong…. The question is at what point will there be so many Chinese people online that such mechanisms break down in terms of censorship and so forth?" This confidence that Internet use goes hand in hand with an open and free exchange of information of all kinds could prove true, but the opposite could also be true in countries where government approval is required for business development and public expression of personal ideas — China is certainly giving it a try. It is noteworthy that the problem of online music and movie piracy remains acute despite such strong regulation. Could copyright infringement over the Internet be a more powerful force than political expression?

For a few days between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, Google-owned YouTube was not among the thousands of websites banned in Turkey for the first time in more than two years. The first politically based YouTube ban was imposed briefly in 2007 and the long-standing ban was imposed in May 2008. The ban was reinstated last Tuesday due to video content that was found objectionable for completely new reasons pertaining to a leading political figure in the opposition party. Savvy Internet users in Turkey are reported to have no difficulty logging on to YouTube by means of proxy servers. YouTube is generally unwilling to take down videos because they violate political sensitivities in countries that practice censorship, although it did assist authorities in Thailand in 2007 to selectively block videos found politically offensive.

On Oct. 29 the International Intellectual Property Alliance responded to a call for comments by the U. S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration regarding difficulties experienced by U.S. businesses trying to enforce intellectual property rights in foreign markets. Among its other responses, IIPA called attention to "the inexorable connection between market access barriers and piracy." Censorship regulations are only one of several barriers that can help elevate local businesses into "national champions" while preventing hit-driven industries from achieving the timely release of legitimate content online in these markets. IIPA said, "As a result, illegal operations, which simply ignore such requirements, move to take advantage of any temporary product voids by speeding pirated copies to market. This creates an informal but highly lucrative exclusive distribution window for pirates that is in turn highly damaging for right holders and their authorized distributors."

Citibank and Google released the results of a study on Nov. 2 estimating online spending trends in Russia, forecasting total e-commerce to reach approximately $19.5 billion with accelerating growth in 2010. Buying Internet music was the most popular transaction, followed by the more costly categories of airplane and train tickets according to the study. E-commerce is expected to continue its growth trend as Internet coverage and convenient bankcards become more available in Russia's countryside and smaller cities.

France launched its Carte musique program on Oct. 28 to subsidize digital music purchases by consumers between ages of 12–25 by giving them twice the purchasing power — or "2 x plus." France's Minister of Culture and Communication Frédéric Mitterrand said, "If young people buy on music platforms, then we've won the game." Approved by the European Commission on Oct. 12, the plan is expected to particularly benefit France's smaller digital music providers. It launches with 14 online music stores onboard including Amazon and iTunes.

The Copyright Office published a notice of inquiry in the Federal Register on Nov. 3 soliciting comments on the possible effects and implementation of changing the copyright protection of pre-1972 recordings so that they would be covered by federal copyright law. Comments are due by Dec. 20. Since these recordings are presently covered by a patchwork of state laws only, libraries and archives face an incredibly complex task trying to clear rights in order to perform audio preservation activities. Please note that the deadline for reply comments is Jan. 19, 2011 (The Federal Register ran an incorrect date of Dec. 3).

Billboard.biz published an interview with The Recording Academy VP, Advocacy & Government Relations Daryl P. Friedman the day after last week's elections, assessing the results. Although the House of Representatives will switch to Republican leadership in the next Congress, Friedman said, "The change in party leadership doesn't really have a major impact, because the issues have been bipartisan." While copyright's champions fared well at the polls, the House lost its leading proponent for fair use and looser copyright restrictions — Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), lost the contest in his district. The many accolades noting his departure with regret include Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael J. Copps and consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge President and Co-Founder Gigi B. Sohn.

 

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