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New Chinese limits on online video could affect foreign websites

Regulations bar certain content; providers must be state-controlled.

January 04, 2008|From the Associated Press

HONG KONG — China has moved to restrict videos online, allowing only state-controlled sites to post any -- including ones shared by users -- and requiring Internet providers to delete and report certain content.

It wasn't immediately clear how the new rules would affect YouTube and other providers that host websites based in other countries that are accessible from China.

A spokesman for YouTube, based in San Bruno, Calif., said the restrictions "could be a cause for concern, depending on the interpretation."

Tudou.com, which claims to be China's largest video-sharing website, didn't respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

The regulations, which take effect Jan. 31, were approved by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and by the Ministry of Information Industry and were described on their websites Thursday.

Under the rules, websites that provide video programming or allow users to upload video must have a permit and be either state-owned or state-controlled.

The majority of Internet video providers in China are private, according to Chinafilm.com, which is operated by the state-run China Film Group.

Video that involves national secrets, hurts the reputation of China, disrupts social stability or promotes pornography will be banned. Providers must delete and report such content.

"Those who provide Internet video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism . . . and abide by the moral code of socialism," the rules say.

The permits are subject to renewal every three years, and operators who commit "major" violations may be banned from providing online video programming for five years.

Adhering to the new rules could be daunting for YouTube, where about 10 hours of online video on a wide range of topics are uploaded every minute.

None of YouTube's video-hosting computers are in China, but the government could still block access to the site.

YouTube, owned by Google Inc., hopes the rules won't cut it off from the rapidly growing number of Chinese residents with Internet access, spokesman Ricardo Reyes said.

"We believe that the Chinese government fully recognizes the enormous value of online video and will not enforce the regulations in a way that could deprive the Chinese people of its benefits," Reyes said.

China ranks as the world's second-largest Internet market, with a total audience of about 164 million, according to research firm ComScore Inc.

Only the United States, with about 182 million Internet users, has a larger online audience.

YouTube says people worldwide watch more than 200 million videos on its site each day. It declined to specify how much traffic comes from China.

Google and other major Internet companies have set up operations in China in hopes of making money from online advertising.

But doing business in China also has required companies to obey laws that stifle free speech, angering U.S. politicians and human rights activists.

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