SARFT Clamps Down on P2P Sites in China, BTChina shuts Down, and VeryCD to Follow

The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.

The recent weeks have been particularly hard for the web P2P community, with thePirate Bay shutting down and Mininova turning legal. The situation in China has taken a turn for the worse (if you’re a P2P user) also, as the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has taken action against several P2P sites.

Among the casualties is BTChina, the largest torrent tracker in China. On Dec. 4th, netizens found that the website was inaccessible; the following day a short note appeared:

“BTChina has received notification from SARFT that as we don’t have a video license, our ICP registration with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has been deleted, and we are shutting down.”

It’s worthy to note that the direct reason these sites are shutting down is that they don’t have licenses to distribute video online, not necessarily because of piracy. In the past few days, several rumors have been flying on the Chinese web regarding SARFT’s actions, including one which claimed that BTChina’s founder, Huang Xiwei, has been detained by the police. This was later proved to be false (link in Chinese), as Dai Yunjie, the founder of VeryCD (the popular Chinese site for eMule downloads), called Huang immediately after he saw the web discussions.

VeryCD itself was down on the afternoon of Dec 9, which has led to massive speculation  that it would follow BTChina’s fate and be shut down permanently. Although initially VeryCD notified visitors to its site that it was experiencing technical difficulties — possibly due to a tremendous surge in traffic from users scrambling to download files as other P2P sites are closed — and would be up and running again by Thursday December 10. Well 12/10 has come and the site still remains down. This lends credence to a Southern Daily article that reported that further action against VeryCD and other P2P sites was highly likely, with another wave of sites receiving closure notifications on Dec 11th.

Needless to say there has been a huge uproar in the Chinese net space, as P2P downloading is the primary method for netizens to access the latest films and US TV series. Over the years the distribution chain has became so efficient that Chinese subtitled versions of the latest episodes of 24and other popular series are up on torrent sites a few hours after their initial showing.

Ironically, commentators think that the clamp down on P2P sites will lead to a revival of the pirated DVDs in China, which has taken quite a hit in recent years as consumers have migrated to downloading online. So in essence it’s saving one part of the piracy market at the expense of another.

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