Media regulation

Online video tainted by spoofs


A driver carrying 'Spoof Shorts' is stopped at the gate to 'The Internet': "Do you have a permit?" "If I'm just playing around, I still need a permit?"

The net's been abuzz all week with reactions to a notice from SARFT that online video content will soon need to be licensed to be legal.

This evening's Mirror devotes the inside of the front page to a summary of the current discussion. The main points under contention:

- Are SARFT's rules legal? According to law professor Yang Xiaojun with the China National School of Administration, they are not:

If individuals who use online video do not infringe on copyrights or violate the law but act within a framework permitted by law, then no person or government department has the power to intervene. "Individuals broadcasting video content must obtain a permit," is evidently a new kind of administrative license, and must conform to the rules contained in Administrative License Law. However, according to the provisions in Administrative License Law, unless they are ratified by the State Council or the National People's Congress, SARFT has no authority to establish new administrative licenses.

- Are SARFT's rules realistic? Assuming that it has the authority to do so, can the administration really exercise oversight over every bit of video content that's made public online? And how will it issue permits or assess penalties - identities are hard to confirm online.

One commentator notes that back in 2003, SARFT issued regulations requiring permits for TV shows and movies that were broadcast online, yet there has been little heard about them since.

- Are online videos 100% spoofs? The debate is being framed as a collision between a culture that deserves respect and a bunch of hooligans who have nothing better to do than mock beloved films and public figures, perhaps crossing the bounds of good taste in the process. Instead of asking "Should permits be required for Internet films?", a large section of the Chinese media is focusing on the question, "Should there be limits to how far a spoof can go?" Yang Fengxia comments in the Mirror:

SARFT is preparing to release new management provisions for Internet video, requiring individuals who broadcast online video to obtain a permit. This seems a bit ridiculous: the net isn't even real, so how will this permit be issued? Is issuing the permit in accord with relevant regulations?

Let's look at this issue from another perspective - although there is a definite degree of difficulty in issuing permits, isn't it basically true that online spoofs have gotten a bit out of hand? So promulgating these permits demonstrates a particular attitude of the government: spoofs are fine, but you must not overdo it! Moreover, after there are corresponding regulations, if spoofing does get overdone, then there will be laws to rely on.

The Mirror quotes a psychological counselor with the PsychCN website who says that there are three main types of people who are involved in online spoofs: those who do it just for fun, those who want show off for other people online, and those who do it to vent, to "maliciously harm or slander famous people."

Also circulating this week has been a transcript of a discussion hosted by Guangming Daily on 10 August, shortly before the new rules were revealed. In any other climate a dry, pointless discussion on "Preventing online spoofs from becoming commonplace" involving, as you'd expect, copious references to a socialist concept of morality, the Eight Honors and Disgraces, and officials from various government departments and representatives from media companies proving their bona fides by deploring the moral danger posed by the spoof phenomenon, the transcript is now able to be read as high-concept spoof all on its own.

Elsewhere on the net Fu Chong, the founder of Flowers' label NewBees Records, responds on his blog to Wang Xiaofeng's piece on SARFT (see below) with some suggestions of possible outcomes:

Will the mainland ban free broadcast of "illegal video"?

by Qiu Ao (aka Fu Chong)

Sanbiao's blog [Wang Xiaofeng] said that SARFT had put out new regulations prohibiting the online transmission of uncertified video content [link]. Apparently the problems I had previously been worried about have finally appeared. Ever since the appearance on the mainland of video blogs and Vlogs, I have been worried that there would be regulations interfering with its development. Sure enough...

Before this, when talking about the development of A/V blogs, there were two sticking points: copyright and policy. When it comes to the video arena, it seems that the latter is more sensitive. I feel that the announcement of these regulations will directly cause enormous headaches for companies providing online video services. I don't know - will these operators amend their file submission programs to require a SARFT license number when submitting a program? How can this license be obtained? How can it be validated?

From a non-technological perspective, if video content has not received a licence, then it is "illegal video"; does this mean that even recordings of family gatherings need to apply for licenses before they can be broadcast online? I've found that in China, if things are difficult to manage, then they are simply not permitted. Following this rule, it appears that in the future, even artist interviews and live appearances filmed by record companies and issued from their own official websites will need to apply for a license, heh! In an era where a spoof ring-tone can sell like mad, this rule is truly comical in the extreme!

Several Beijing companies with bands and music are currently putting together an alliance to create a transmission and sales platform of their own. Apparently online transmission of video has run into critical problems before it has even begun. A gem of a blog, Hopesome, has always enticed me to do online video programs; I wonder how he felt after he learned about this information.

But think about it - ultimately, there are a number of solutions to this problem: Each online video service provider could apply for a license; in this way, the videos distributed on the provider's platform would then be legal. Media companies could apply for a license - otherwise even music videos available on television would be illegal once they entered the online arena. Only video content bearing the name of that media company would be legal. Or SARFT could simply become China's only online video service provider - it could set up its own massive website, and any video files uploaded by the site's registered users would be legal. In any case it's unrealistic to have every camera unit to apply for a license for every bit of content in their video programs.

There's an even simpler method - regardless of where to submit your video files, all you do is send an SMS to **** reading ***** and verify that you are purchasing an online video license, and you can legalize your video files.

As it is, it looks like netizens who like messing with video will have no choice but to upload their files to video distribution platforms they find outside the country, and paste links into their blog or personal space. However, strictly speaking this too is transmission, and is still in violation of the rules. Even using just a video clip from YouTube is no good.

So I should say, go to a foreign blog platform or rent space outside the borders. The registration that came on so fierce a while back drove group of users to rent space outside the borders; this time, will the so-called rules once again expel a group of creative minds? Or perhaps the fuss will carry on for three or four days and then subside without resolution?

Previously a friend asked me why I want to retire, and leave China before '08 - it seems that there is less and less of a need to answer this question.

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There are currently 2 Comments for Online video tainted by spoofs.

Comments on Online video tainted by spoofs


if the videos can be defined as filmed content being publicly broadcast, then yes SARFT is the appropriate ministry to be dealing with this.

But let's assume videos are filmed content, and posting them for public access is equivalent to broadcast...

Let's have a look at Section 25 of the film administration regulatory code to see according to what existing guidlines SARFT will rule:

According to Rule 8, it is stipulated that content may not insult or slander a third party, or damage a third party’s rights. (侮辱或者诽谤他人,侵害他人合法权益)

Nor may content

Disturb the order of the society, harm the stableness of the society. (Rule 6) (扰乱社会秩序,破坏社会稳定)

Nor may it

Harm social morality or excellence of Chinese culture. (Rule 9) (i危害社会公德或者民族优秀文化传统).

If those fail, there's always a great catch all: nor may content contain

Any other material prohibited by Chinese Law (Rule 10)(有法律、行政法规和国家规定禁止的其他内容。)

But even if one could successfully argue that SARFT doesn't have the legal authority to delimit net content, the issue would hardly go away: the matter would be shuffled to another state council level authority for oversight... (MOP, MPP, MOC, MII, take your pick)

True, content regulation is probably inevitable, but I see (comparatively) few complaints about that aspect; it's the implementation that may be questionable - is online video a domain to which entry may be refused, or an open realm from which people are occasionally expelled? Imagine if GAPP had decided that individuals posting articles online were engaged in publishing and needed to apply for a publication license before they could put up blog posts. Instead, it was the MII that implemented the beian system, which put the onus for content oversight on content providers rather than content creators. SARFT's emphasis on 'individuals' rather than 'providers' seems to be the source of questions about the regulations' legality and enforceability.

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