PRC Regulation on Internet-Based Live Broadcasting Businesses
On Sept. 2, 2016, the General Administration of Press Publication Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China (the “GAPP”) released the Circular on Several Issues for Strengthening the Administration of Internet-Based Live Broadcasting Services (the “GAPP Circular”), which took effect immediately. The government determined that this regulation was not sufficient and additional regulation was necessary. As a result, on Nov. 4, 2016, the Cyberspace Administration Office of the People’s Republic of China (the “CAO”) released the Regulation on Internet-Based Live Broadcasting Services (the “CAO Regulation”), which took effect on Dec. 1, 2016. This article highlights the key regulatory measures in both the GAPP Circular and the CAO Regulation. In this article, the GAPP Circular and the CAO Regulation are jointly referred to as the “Internet Live Regulations”.
Authorities and Targets
The Internet Live Regulations aim to regulate the Internet-Based Live Broadcasting Services (the “Live Services”), the platform service providers for the Live Services (the “Live Platform Providers”), and the providers of content for the Live Services (the “Live Content Providers”).
Live Services are the internet-based services that consistently provide the public with real time information in the form of video, audio, pictures, articles, etc. A Live Platform Provider, such as www.douyu.com, is the entity that runs the platform service that hosts the Live Services, and a Live Content Provider, such as Papi Jiang, is an entity or individual broadcaster and/or user that receives the Live Platform Porvider’s services and provides contents to the general public.
Similar to regulation of other online content, the Internet Live Regulations establish three-layer regulation. At the top of the regulatory hierarchy, the CAO and its local offices will take primary responsibility for regulating Live Services. In the middle, various ministry authorities and their local counterparts will coordinate with the CAO and its local offices within the regulatory authorities on regulating specific Live Services content. Finally, at the bottom, the Live Platform Providers will censor and/or block prohibited content for the Live Services delivered through their respective platforms. Moreover, these Live Platform Providers will be held accountable for illegal content provided through their platforms.
News Content. News broadcasting is always a sensitive area in China. Not surprisingly, the CAO Regulation emphasizes the applicability of the regulation to internet news and information services provided through the Live Services, and the GAPP Circular establishes specific operational guidance and requirements for news content on the Live Services.
Under the CAO Regulation, in order to offer legally compliant news-related Live Services, (1) the Live Platform Provider must obtain the approval from the CAO for the internet news information service (the “Internet News Approval”), (2) the Live Content Provider must also obtain its own Internet News Approval, and (3) the specific news content provided in the Live Services must fall within the approved scope of both the Internet News Approval received by the corresponding Live Platform Provider and that received by the corresponding Live Content Provider.
Under the GAPP Circular, an “Information Network Audio and Video Transmission Permit” (the “Online AV Permit”) will also be required to broadcast audio or video news-related Live Services. Depending on the type of news related Live Services, one will have to obtain one or the other of the following Online AV Permit:
- Item 5 of Category A Online AV Service Permit if the Live Services involve live AV for serious and important political, military, economic, social, cultural, and sports events; and
- Item 7 of Category B Online AV Service Permit if the Live Services involve live AV for the general social, cultural, and sports events.
Other Content. Although not governed by the Internet Live Regulations, other content offered on the Live Services must still comply with the general content regulation that currently governs the Chinese telecommunications and online content services.
The majority of the regulatory requirements of the Internet Live Regulations are imposed on the Live Platform Providers. This is not a surprise. Such regulatory requirements include:
- Advance Filing Requirements for AV News: Live Services must file with the GAPP 5 days and 48 hours in advance respectively for Live Services involving (1) serious and important political, military, economic, social, cultural, and sports events, and (2) general social, cultural, and sports events;
- Chief Editor Personal Responsibility: In addition to the usual requirement imposed upon the Live Platform Providers to have proper professional personnel for identification and content verification, information security, technical support, and emergency support, the Live Platform Provider must also appoint a Chief Editor who will be personally responsible and liable for the news content on the Live Service;
- Special News Content Rules: The Live Platform Providers must ensure that (1) the source of the news content is true, fair, and objective, (2) the reproduced news content is properly marked with the original source and without any content alteration; and (3) no real-time onscreen comments are allowed at all for serious and important political, military, economic, social, cultural, and sports events, and the Live Platform Provider must implement real-time screening of the real-time onscreen comments for the general social, cultural, and sports events;
- Prior Content Screening: The Live Platform Providers must screen the content before the content is distributed or published on their platforms and they must ensure that there is no improper political content contained in the content;
- Live Content Provider Screening: The Live Platform Providers are required to establish a reliability or reputation evaluation policy for the Live Content Providers, and they must further establish and maintain a blacklist of the Live Content Providers who fail to demonstrate such creditworthiness. The Live Content Provider must deregister and not allow the re-registration for Live Services of any Live Content Provider included in the blacklist. The Live Platform Provider must share such blacklist with the CAO;
- Capability to Suspend and Terminate: The Live Platform Providers must have the capability to suspend and terminate the Live Services with technologies and processes that are compliant with the China national standards;
- Different Real-Name Policies for Live Services Users and Live Content Providers: The Live Platform Providers must (1) identify and verify all Live Services users by their mobile phone numbers, and (2) identify and verify all Live Content Providers by their personal ID and business registration, and categorize the Live Content Providers into different categories and register the category information with the CAO;
- 60 Days Log Records: The Live Platform Providers are required to record the content and log information of the Live Content Providers and must keep such records for 60 days.
Punishment and Discipline
The Internet Live Regulations do not impose any new liabilities or punishments for violation of the regulation of the Live Services. Any news content violation in the Live Services is subject to the punishment and discipline defined by the Administration Rules on Internet News Information Services, and any other content violations to other corresponding existing administrative regulations and rules.
The Internet Live Regulations impose clear regulatory requirements and specific operational requirements. Although there appears to be no greater liability under the Internet Live Regulations, the Internet Live Regulations will disqualify individuals from engaging in news content-related Live Services and they further impose additional personnel, technical, and administrative costs and burdens for platform providers to support the Live Services. As a result, the Internet Live Regulations are destined to have a critical impact on the further development of such businesses in China, and service and content providers in such a business should be wary about the changes in the legal and administrative requirements and policies.
In short, the Live Service Regulations are consistent with the Chinese government’s strategy to bring the administrative regulation governing contents from offline to online providers. As interesting comparison, when the O2O businesses strive for success by connecting their online users with the offline service providers, the Chinese regulatory authorities effectuate regulatory strategy by focusing on offline physical content providers in order to regulate their online contents offering. So far, both strategies are successful and effective.
Recently, a news article was published about the Internet Live Regulation entitled “The Death of the Live Services”. Will it become true? We will all have to wait and see its true impact.