Online games and films targeted in clampdown
Michael Jen-siu in Beijing
Distributors need special licences from July 1 in attempt to control violent, sexually explicit or anti-government content
Distributors of internet games and films will soon have to obtain special licences before sending the material to millions of computer users in China.
The decision has been taken by the Ministry of Culture in an effort to control violent, sexually explicit or anti-government content.
From July 1, the ministry will allow only registered companies to distribute 'cultural products' via the internet, and make them apply for special licences. Violators may be fined 1,000 to 5,000 yuan (HK$940 to HK$4,700) and be forced to suspend business.
The rules cover music and artwork and apply both to for-profit and non-profit distribution, including redistribution. They follow last year's State Council order that government ministries in charge of the internet do more to guard against banned content.
But people in the information technology field say the regulations will not change much. High-profile game and movie distributors are based overseas, they say, and the government lacks co-ordination to control the person-to-person distribution of films or games within the country. 'It could be tricky regulating this,' said Stephen Casale, an information technology expert with the public relations firm Ogilvy and Mather in Shanghai. 'How and where do you draw the line is an issue.'
Control of internet culture matters because China's younger computer users can spend hours each day with downloaded movies and games. When Beijing's internet cafes are open - they have been closed for more than a month because of Sars - customers watch Hollywood movies on their monitors. Other internet cafe customers bring headphones to play downloaded music clips. About 59 million people have internet access on the mainland.
The impetus for these regulations is the State Council order, which also covers websites and internet communication. But a staff member with the Ministry of Culture's propaganda bureau said: 'We need to have some kind of vehicle for management.'
The forces behind Zhanshen, one of Beijing's more popular online war games, would cope with the new rules by sending the game in from overseas, said Kay Zhang, an internet cafe liaison officer with the game company Moxze. 'We're not in China, so we don't need a licence,' said Ms Zhang, whose three-year-old game has 12,000 users.
Internet companies overseas have long distributed content to China without much trouble except for blocked websites. Some of the content that gets through was anti-China, said Dai Gang, an internet expert with the Made for China consulting firm.
'There are always anti-China people out there overseas,' he said.