BT Sites Shut Down – Is Piracy Blocked or Circulated

2010/4/22Sara Yan, China IP,[Patent]

 

 

 In early December 2009, the China State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) flexed its muscles in rectifying what it described as “unlicensed” audio-visual websites in China. As of the publication of this Journal, SARFT has shut down more than 530 BitTorrent (BT) websites, including the well-known BitTorrent-based download service providers like Btchina.net, btpig.com and bbs.cnxp.com.  
 
 
  SARFT has also ordered local radio and television departments to make further investigations into local audio-visual websites. From March 1, 2010, those operating without an appropriate government license will possibly follow the same road as BT.
 
  The shutdown greatly shocked BT users and netizens. They condoled with their beloved BT and American TV dramas by re-writing the lyrics of pop songs and crying, “How can I live without you – BT!” Howsoever unacceptable, they have to realize that, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.”
 
  On December 14, ten days after the closedown of BTchina.net and other P2P sites, SARFT explained for the first time at its official website the reason for its measures against BT-based sites: “In recent years some web sites spread a large number of pirated films, TV dramas and other programs publicly. Some of these programs contain lewd content. Such behaviors severely harmed young people’s health and copyright owners’ interests. The Chinese government has been called upon and urged both nationally and internationally to take legal actions against these web sites. BT sites were distributing audio and video content and didn’t have the ‘Information Network Communicated Audio-Video Program License’ issued by the SARFT. They were unauthorized to provide Internet audio-visual program services.”    
 
Weeding out “unlicensed operations”
 
  In SARFT’s statement, “unlicensed” is the legal basis for its crackdown campaign on audio-visual websites. Netease Tech published an article titled, “The Truth behind BT’s Shutdown – SARFT Clarifies Five Misunderstandings,” claiming that SARFT was not targeting BT sites exclusively, but rectifying in accordance with relevant provisions applicable to all audio-visual websites operating without the appropriate government license. BT sites were the unlicensed providers of movies and TV shows, and that’s why they were shut down.      
 
  The “relevant provisions” mentioned here refers to the Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Service jointly promulgated by SARFT and the former Ministry of Information Industry in December 2007. Article 7 of the Provisions says that any website operator or anyone that has not obtained the “Information Network Communicated Audio-Video Program License” shall be forbidden to engage in Internet audio-visual program services. Local radio and television departments shall enjoin website operators or individuals that are not licensed to provide Internet audio-visual program services to immediately stop all authorized services.    
 
  SARFT has also placed limits on the application for the license in June 2008: Applicants for the license must be wholly state-owned or state controlling corporations, enterprises or institutions, and have no record of any violation of laws and regulations within three years prior to the application date.    
 
The two-sidedness of the crackdown
 
  BT sites were the “headquarters” of online piracy and infringement. Most of them were distributing pirated audio and visual products; some even contained malicious software or virus in the audio and visual products. It was imperative for Chinese authority to take regulatory measures against these unlicensed BT sites.   
 
  “Intellectual property” is not a new word for Chinese netizens. They have already acquainted themselves with it through the past two to three decades of western cultural baptism and the battles encountered in the process of internationalization. Actually, a large number of people who buy pirated DVDs from street peddlers are well-educated and are possibly agreeable to intellectual property protection.     
 
  However, these most “agreeable” people also spoke out in protest. A netizen named amaohome said:
 
  “The end is justified, but the means are not. If copyrighted products are available at a reasonable price, I will surely choose the copyrighted products. If SARFT broadcasts American TV dramas, I will watch them on TV instead of downloading from BT. If I can afford movie tickets, I will certainly enjoy the big screen rather than a fuzzy pirated version. But these are pseudo-propositions. These ‘ifs’ never happen.”     
 
  IT critic “Benli” said that, “Piracy is not a problem with channel providers, but with content suppliers and pirated disc copiers. We must prevent and tackle piracy at its source, instead of shutting down all P2P sharing channels that use the BT file-swapping technology.” Here another question is raised by many IT people: “Baidu is considered the most untouchable player in the pirate business world. In providing audio and video download services, Baidu is not different from BT. Why is BT shut down for aiding piracy, while Baidu is safe and sound?”
 
  The shutdown of BT websites, however, has given rise to another boom of pirate DVDs in subway stations and electronic zones. When asked about the influence of BT’s shutdown on their business, DVD peddlers are alive with optimism and great expectations. This means we have to reevaluate the effect of BT’s crackdown upon piracy crackdown. It is predictable that without download resources, some netizens will go out on the street again to look for pirated DVDs, and some of the others will choose to use video-sharing websites.
 
  Pirate businessmen are optimistic about the “post-BT era.”  But some netizens are still expecting a revival of BT sites. “Our BT will soon come back again! Let’s wait and see!” Such messages are seen everywhere on Baidu’s message bulletin. Internet governance is nothing new. BT sites have been under surveillance for a long time and usually face a severe rectification storm about once a year. After the storm, they pop up again.        
 
  Actually, the shutdown of BT sites does not mean putting an end to the downloading technology. Without BT, netizens can turn to the original FTP or the new P2P sharing technology. It is just like what Thepiratebay.org (TPB, the biggest BT-based download service website in the world, whose Tracker was permanently shut down on November 17, 2009) described: “Now that the decentralized system for finding peers is so well developed, ...the era is no longer up-to-date. We have put the server in a museum already, and now the tracking can be put there as well.”
 
  Perhaps only a shutdown of the Internet will stamp out the dissemination of un-copyrighted works through the sharing approaches.     
 
  The crackdown on piracy cannot be achieved by shutting down a few websites. The ultimate priority is to raise netizens’ copyright protection awareness and to support legitimate works.
 
  From a long-term perspective, BT’s shutdown is a step forward to solving problems such as piracy and online porn, and will promote the healthy development of China’s film and TV industry. However, it shall not be the only measure adopted by Chinese policy makers to crack down on piracies and to safeguard copyright owners’ interests. They should put China’s actual conditions into consideration, and take measures step by step to avoid going from one extreme to another. Until we achieve a balance between netizens’ opinions and government’s regulations, this will remain a long-standing challenge faced by Chinese authorities.     
 
  And there are also sober minds behind the shock and anger:
 
  “A nation that has dreams is a nation that has promise. A nation with a sober mind is a nation with a future. We were addicted to the doctrine of taking and copying until we were told of the deprivation of this privilege. We felt uncomfortable and even angry, but now it’s time to wake up! Suppose that in a few years foreigners may become addicted to copying our cultural products? Then we will know that the protection of intellectual property is not only a matter of having respect for other people’s creations, but it also encourages self creativity,” a moderator from Tianya.cn said.

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