At the time of writing this blog (October 2021), copyright protection for online music in China is one of the highest in the world today, despite outdated information about this topic on Wikipedia from 2008 stating the opposite. If you’ve based your knowledge of music copyright in China on the first thing your Google search came up with without checking more sources, it may be you have perhaps felt suspicious about distributing your music to China. We have now started the process of updating the information on wikipedia. In the meantime, let us give you an overview of the current situation regarding music copyright in China.
The market reform or the “opening of China” in the late 1970s led the country from state ownership and central planning towards a market economy. This led to a boom in the consumption of cassette recordings, including pirated underground recordings from around the world. With Renminbi symbols in their eyes, the cassette manufacturers hired local musicians to do covers of hit songs from abroad. These recordings became extremely popular, but usually the original copyright holders and creators didn’t benefit from this at all.
In 1992, China joined the Berne Convention, which is an international copyright agreement requiring the recognition of the copyrights of citizens of all other parties of the convention. The convention now has 179 contracting parties (=almost all the countries in the world), including the US, Canada and all the European countries except the Vatican City. In the same year, the Music Copyright Society of China was also founded. The piracy situation didn’t change much though. Later, in 2001 China passed a law about digital copyrights, but the record labels didn’t regard digital music copyrights as a priority in the country’s underdeveloped internet industry. Up to 99% of the music downloads in China were illegal in 2011.
The state of digital music remained unsafe and somewhat chaotic until 2015, when the National Copyright Administration banned unlicensed music streaming and ordered streaming platforms to remove it from their services. 2.2 million songs were removed from services such as Baidu, QQ and Xiami. Soon after this, a mandate among major Chinese streaming platforms and label companies with international major labels was signed to enforce music copyright. Prior to this, music consumers in China had had easy access to free pirated music.
The Chinese digital music consumers got into the habit of accessing music legally quite fast after banning unlicensed music on streaming services and it could be seen in concrete numbers: the licensed digital music revenues of the recording industry in China increased from $90m (2014) to $195m (2017) and most of this was from music streaming. The revenue from music streaming was 18.5% of the total revenue of the Chinese music industry in 2017 (see picture 1). In 2018, 96% of consumers were listening to licensed music.
The streaming services in China were competing with each other partly by trying to offer content, which the other services couldn’t and this way aiming to push copyright further to diminish piracy even more. After the Chinese National Copyright Administration expressed their intention to get rid of these exclusive rights the streaming companies were hogging, Tencent and NetEase agreed to share 99% of the music they had exclusive rights to for sub-licensing in 2018. Today, The State Administration for Market Regulation aims to maintain a healthy competition environment between streaming services in China by relinquishing excessive exclusive rights.
From the streaming companies’ perspective, this copyright-safe non-exclusive digital environment enables companies to focus on creating their own content and enhancing their customer experiences rather than spending a lot of money on exclusive licensing fees. Read more about the unique aspects of Chinese streaming platforms here.
Especially for indie artists and record labels, this non-exclusive licensing will bring more possibilities for success in the long run because they can make their music available on multiple platforms. As a side note, I’ll mention here that Musicinfo takes advantage of this non-exclusive digital music environment and maximizes the benefit for the user by distributing music to over 50 streaming services of varying sizes (not only to the major ones) giving the artists and labels an unmatched amount of possibilities in the Chinese music market.
Ok, so now we know that in general, music copyright is enforced in China. But how do we at Musicinfo ensure that your music will stay safe in China once you distribute it there via us?
First of all, we have reliable partners and a lot of experience in the Chinese music market. Since 2016, we have been working with major players in the Chinese music industry to guarantee legal and copyright-protected access for independent musicians and record labels to license and distribute their music. So far, Musicinfo services have been used by musicians and record labels from over 75 countries.
Secondly, the Musicinfo Trademark is registered with the National Intellectual Property Administration, PRC, in China. This solidifies Musicinfo’s status in the Chinese music market as a credible agent and thereby helps to prevent any infringements of our company and the music we distribute.
Thirdly, if an artist or a label notices that illegal or unauthorized copies of their music are available on Chinese streaming services, Musicinfo can clear the market of these by redistributing them legally to 50+ music and media services. This will help artists to monitor their copyrights and royalties in this music market. If you are an artist or a record label, you can check your music’s availability on the major services in China with the help of our free finder tool here.
Fourthly, it is worth mentioning that when a customer distributes their release(s) to China via us, they need to provide the Universal Product Code (UPC) for their content and the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) for the identification of the sound recordings and their utilization. If the customer does not have these codes, our Musicinfo Platform will generate them.
Also since Performance Rights Organizations don't work in China, we at Musicinfo handle the monetary side of business for our artists. We give out 100% of the streaming revenues - in 2021 we have paid over 100.000 USD of royalties to our artists.
If you are interested in getting your music safely to China and giving it the maximum possibilities via promotion actions, synchronization and the widest digital music distribution on the market, please take a look at our services here.
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