Reports are surfacing that there is a major government crackdown on video sharing recently. While some of the accusations are copyright infringement activities, many suspect it’s actually politically motivated.
Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes
The suggestion on 56.com was that they were down for maintenance, but the site has been down for maintenance since the third of this month. The lengthy downtime, according to the report, is sparking concerns that the Chinese government is actually censoring the site. 56.com is no small site either since, according to Alexa, currently boasts a traffic ranking of 83 overall with traffic primarily originating from China.
“At the start of the year,” writes Chris Albrecht of NewTeeVee, “Chinese regulators said that video sites would have to be state-owned. The government later clarified its list of requirements for video sites, including the types of content that must be filtered. The strict regulations leaves the state of the online video business in China in flux.”
Apparently, the trouble of the video streaming business in Asia isn’t solely originating in China. According to Chosun, a news outlet in South Korea, five CEOs of a South Korea based video streaming outlet were arrested for copyright violations recently. From the report:
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday said it arrested the presidents of five companies including Nowcom, which runs PDBOX, and KUTECH, which runs Endisk. The total number of the members of these five firms mount to 23.38 million, and the sales W74 billion (US$1=W1,024).
They are charged with promoting the illegal circulation of domestic and foreign films online by giving “heavy uploaders” 10 percent of their revenues from downloaders. According to the prosecutors, if a user pays W300 to download one film, the one who uploaded it gets W30, and the storage company earns W270. The system generates an estimated loss of W1.1 trillion for the domestic film industry, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors decided not to prosecute those who downloaded the files as their number is too large and it is difficult to assume that they knew the files they downloaded violated copyright.
But some Internet users say the government, unhappy with the candlelight vigils, has started cracking down on the Internet as a form of revenge. “As Afreeca became a mecca of online protests with over 7 million watching live broadcasts of candlelight vigils, we remain suspicious at the nature of this investigation,” Nowcom says. “It cannot be ruled out that a political motive is involved.” Prosecutors brushed off the claim, explaining that the investigation began in April, even before the candlelight vigils started, and Afreeca is not even part of this investigation.
NewTeeVee covered the story saying “South Korea has one of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world; 40 MBit connections in the home are not uncommon. Koreans used to make use of these fast connections by swapping files P2P-style, but users have migrated to web-based storage solutions since the popular file-swapping system Soribada was forced to shut down in 2005.”
Free accounts do, however, have limited download speeds. Users have to buy or earn rewards points to get faster downloads, and you can earn points if other users download your files. This rewards system seems to be at the core of the investigations against the companies involved. Prosecutors have told Chosun Ilbo that the company rewards heavy uploaders with up to 10 percent of the money it makes from movie downloads.
Webhard services have been targeted by prosecutors and the entertainment industry for a while now, but Korean activists have always criticized efforts to shut down or restrict those services as heavy-handed and “a surrender (…) to pressure from the U.S.”
Anti-U.S. sentiments are also at the core of the dispute about the recent crackdown. Protests against the government’s decision to allow imports of U.S. meat have hit the Korean government hard in recent weeks. Nowcom execs believe their company was targeted because it offered these protests an online forum, according to JoongAng Ilbo.
NewTeeVee also points to statement which contains the following:
“The arrests naturally make us question whether the government authorities are conducting this probe with a politically motivated intention to prevent the expansion of candlelight vigils,” the company said in a statement posted on Afreeca.com.
“Nowcom never helped Internet users infringe upon copyrights of materials either,” the statement said.
Prosecutors said Afreeca.com is not the target of the investigation.
“The film industry has been filing lawsuits against online storage services since March,” said Koo Bon-jin, a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office. “Our investigation is focused on how these storage services are involved in circulating pirated films.”
In a world where privacy has become a thing of the past in the US and in Sweden, people could soon face total disconnection from the internet in France based on three copyright complaints and a theory that making available is copyright infringement floating around, one hopes that these two incidences in Asia isn’t a sign of things to come for Western society as well.