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China may have just made it harder for its citizens to ever get Spotify

Reuters/Damir Sagolj
Music in China—loud but controlled.
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

China doesn’t think its online censorship laws are strict enough. So government officials, in an effort to continue purging potentially subversive content from the country, are now turning their attention toward an unexpected target—music.

Starting next year, companies that offer online music in China will be ordered to filter their libraries for “harmful” content before making any music available to the public, Reuters and several other news agencies reported Monday (Nov. 9). China’s Ministry of Culture announced the rule on its website.

Three of the biggest web service sites in the country—Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent—offer music streaming services and will more than likely be subject to the change. These companies already have to censor their web content, and many of them employ large teams of people to find and erase sensitive online material. Under the new rules, the size of those teams will probably have to increase.

But more significant is the potential effect of these new rules on companies without a presence in China.

Spotify, a giant of the global music streaming industry, has carved out significant markets for itself in other countries but has yet to launch in China for a number of reasons, including market over-saturation.  (Google shut down its Chinese music service in 2012 because the competition it faced was just too fierce.) And Apple Music arrived in China a few months ago, albeit as a much smaller service. The new censorship rules add an additional barrier to entry, as they would force these companies to comb through tens of millions of songs to weed out the ones that China’s Communist Party could deem a threat to the country’s political stability—an obviously difficult task.

As such, the new rules are certain to change how streaming companies contemplate the Chinese market. But the move is not entirely unexpected: In August, China banned 120 songs from the country—mostly in the genre of hip-hop—for being “morally harmful.”

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