China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has published a notice clarifying details of its new Regulations for Online Audio and Video Services, explaining that some existing private online video firms will, under a grandfather clause, be eligible to continue operations.
More specifically, those firms which had offered online video services legally and without violation of rules on permissible content before issuance of the new regulations will be allowed to re-register and continue providing services; those which had been cited for major or repeated violations of earlier rules, such as provision of pornographic, violent, or other illegal content, will be punished and severely regulated; and those which had been cited for more minor violations will be required to come into compliance before a certain date.
However, companies which apply to offer online video services after issuance of the new regulations will be required to meet the qualifications stated in Item 8 of the new regulations (e.g. majority state-ownership, possession of a comprehensive program censoring system, legal program resources, legal funding sources, and "standardized technology").
Other key points of the notice are as follows:
Websites must not re-broadcast, link, or aggregate content from illegal radio and TV channels or online audio-visual websites. Content uploaded to podcast and video sharing sites must also conform to these regulations. Websites which provide such services will be held responsible for deleting illegal content uploaded by netizens.
A license is required for companies producing, editing, aggregating and broadcasting audio and visual programs via the internet to the public, and is also required for websites that offer platforms to which netizens can upload audio-visual content. Netizens, themselves, will not be required to have a license for uploading audio-visual content.
Content (TV dramas, films, and documentaries) broadcast online must obtain a distribution license from SARFT, and must also have online broadcasting authorization from the copyright owner.
LENS: SARFT first introduced the requirement of an Online Audio-Visual Broadcasting License in 2004 with the promulgation of Order #39, which covers commercial or self-produced audio and video works found on the Internet, mobile phone networks, and television. SARFT has issued 180 such licenses so far, although mainly to SARFT-affiliated, state-owned radio, film and TV companies. Approximately 10 Online Audio-Visual Broadcasting Licenses were granted in 2004 to private companies, including Sina, Tencent, and UiTV, but in August 2005, China’s State Council issued a directive (Order No. 10) banning any foreign or privately funded companies from providing online video services. When SARFT refers in its new clarifications to firms which had offered online video services legally, it means Sina, UiTV, and the other firms which had obtained a license before the issuance of Order No. 10. Popular, privately owned, foreign VC-financed companies like Youku and Tudou, which do not have an Online Audio-Visual Broadcasting License, are in a slightly more precarious position, but through careful cooperation with the authorities, are likely to win permission to continue operations.