Over the past 10 days, Chinese downloaders have flooded - and in some cases, crashed - major P2P and torrent sites after rumors that the government would be effectively disabling all media downloads in the country.
The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has closed hundreds of file-sharing sites since last week as part of an ongoing effort to fight piracy and porn. However, many users say these sources are one of few ways to access films, books, and music banned in China, whether the media is lewd or merely politically dissident. What will media-seeking Chinese citizens do when their links to the wider world are finally severed?
A document called Regulations on the Protection of the Right of Communication through Information, created by SARFT in 2006, was posted on its website late last week, just before the agency rounded up and shut down around 530 bittorrent sites, including the 50-million-users-strong BTChina. SARFT states that websites are not allowed to provide audio or video products without specific licenses.
SARFT rep Cao Yunxia told China Tech News that "illegal audio-visual service websites have brought great harm to the media industry and the administration will continue to seek and destroy illegal Internet audio-visual program providers."
Following these sudden and unforeseen website closures, many Chinese rushed to download what may be their final foreign films and albums.
"I may never be able to download Hollywood movies or classical records again," one college student told China Daily.
When China's largest file-sharing site, VeryCD, has server issues yesterday, many speculated that the government had shut that website down, as well. However, VeryCD's users still have time to continue downloading content, although it is unclear how much time may actually remain.
While VeryCD has applied for a license to distribute its content, it has not yet received official sanction from the Chinese government and has been warned by SARFT about allowing the distribution of unauthorized multimedia content throughout the country.
The site's owners hace said they may suspend downloads over the coming weekend to avoid further trouble with SARFT, and they were unable to comment on the long-term future of the website.
As our loyal readers may recall, China's ongoing censorship of content and restriction of free speech earned it a spot on our Top 10 Failures of 2009 list. Although it is hardly the in the domain of a humble blogger to dictate national policies on media, we feel a great deal of empathy for those who download content not only because it's free online but because they have no other way to access it.
From Ben-Hur to Brokeback Mountain, check out this list of some of the films banned in China. What would you do as an Internet user if illegal downloads were your only way to see content like these films or to listen to many kinds of Western music? What work-arounds would you recommend to Chinese citizens? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.