About two dozen music websites in China appear to have shut down after authorities announced an investigation into sites operating without the appropriate government licenses.
On July 9, China's Ministry of Culture released a notice listing 68 online music sites that had violated the ministry's regulations and failed to obtain the necessary operating license. Now some of those sites have either disappeared altogether, or display notices saying they have shut down.
In recent months, China has been working to clean up the online music piracy scene. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the recording industry worldwide, claimed in 2008 that 99 percent of music files distributed in China were pirate.
The Ministry of Culture has since worked to tighten regulations affecting online music providers. It only grants operating licenses to sites that agree not to distribute pirated music files, according to one license holder.
In April, the Ministry released a notice warning illegal music sites to register for an operating license. In the notice, the Ministry also provided a list of 117 websites in violation, and gave the music providers 60 days to comply.
These unlicensed music sites have "disrupted the online music market regulations and come at the expense of the online music industry and the consumers benefit," the Ministry said in the notice.
Many of the unlicensed sites the Ministry is targeting try to provide streaming music along with lyrics and links to download the MP3 file or a ringtone version of a song.
In this month's notice, the Ministry says it will be investigating the 68 listed music sites with the aid of the related government departments and enforcement agencies, which are scheduled to report back in August.
The Ministry's actions will be a boon for legal music providers, said Gary Chen, one of the founders of Top100.cn. Chen's site provides legal downloads and receives funding from Google, along with backing from major record labels.
Chen said by shutting down pirate music sites, China is helping legal music sites like his grow. Top100.cn now currently boasts a music library of 3.1 million songs. Each month, the free site has about 200 million visits for downloads and online music streaming, he added. But that number still pales in comparison to some of the illegal music sites, Chen said.
"Finally the government agency of the Ministry of Culture is doing something," Chen said. "I think this is one major step for the regulations by the Ministry."