Law Revision Could Muzzle China's Music Industry

The new revision would strip away the only protection they have.

The point of this revision, says the government, is to reign in on piracy. It sounds good in theory, especially the part about users being forced to compensate authors, but conversation among contemporary musicians reveals the inherent issues with this change.

Firstly, after three months, the exclusive control over who can use their work becomes that of the government. The songwriter would have no rights to deny its use even if the user was in direct conflict with the work's ethos.

Secondly, they have no right to decide how much their music is worth as per the context of its use. Currently, there is no clear indication as to how much artists should be compensated, or even if they will be uniformly compensated.

Thirdly, in a society in which government transparency is not part of the system, no one trusts that they'll ever see those copyright fees that are intended for their pockets, and they'll have no recourse to seek them out either.

In response to a revised copyright law, China's hotbed of piracy is unlikely to cool overnight. Instead, songwriters will be less motivated to write and record original material not only for fear that their songs will cease to be their property in a legal context after a mere three months, but that piracy will persist as it always has, thus making their songs fair game for anyone to use without discretion.

Keep in mind that these laws would also apply to foreign music distributed in China, a contentious issue for large music labels in the West. As this is only a proposed revision, China is seeking opinion from industry both domestically and abroad. The time is now to voice our protests.

In this modern, digital world in which the value of recorded music has become nearly indiscernible, it is laws like these that disable even the faintest hope for sustainable careers among existing and future songwriters and composers.

By Ember Swift


Ember Swift is a Canadian musician and writer who has been living in Beijing since 2008. She and her husband, a prominent Chinese musician, have now welcomed their daughter into the world, born in January 2012. For more information about Ember Swift and her life and work, please visit:

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