BEIJING - Many Chinese netizens began complaining on Monday after discovering free download links for their favorite music were suddenly no longer available on a popular online site.
Verycd.com, a leading Chinese website offering free movie and music downloads - most deemed unauthorized - on Saturday removed all of its music download links and posted a note saying the move was done "to meet copyright owners' requests".
Though some cartoons and films for online viewing were still displayed, the website will probably face a suspension as of the end of January since it has not acquired authorization from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), according to China News Service.
Huang Yimeng, the website's founder and general manager, on Saturday said in his micro blog that he "has known this day would come", which raised concerns the website would face a permanent shutdown.
One day later, Huang clarified to the Shanghai-based Youth Daily that it was a temporary self-adjustment rather than a shutdown.
"We have aimed to provide legal content without any pirated ones in the last year," said Huang, adding it was the quick decision to delete the links that might have misled visitors.
A website administrator who declined to give his name said the possibility that the popular verycd.com may turn itself to a social networking site cannot be ruled out.
The website, founded in Shanghai eight years ago, shares a large number of free entertainment resources such as TV series, films and music through an online peer-to-peer file-sharing agreement. The website remains very influential among Chinese netizens and attracts at least 3 million hits every day.
Nevertheless, the pirated content on the website has got it into trouble before.
In 2008, industrial watchdog SARFT issued a warning to the website because it provided pirated movies.
In July 2010, the China Film Copyright Association sued verycd.com over its distribution of the kungfu film Ip Man 2 and demanded compensation of nearly 12 million yuan ($1.8 million).
An Xiaofen, producer of the film, said the download sources of the film were found as early as May 4, 2010 at the website, which attracted tens of thousands of downloads an hour.
Later in December, the website suspended itself amid fears SARFT would close it during a crackdown on online piracy, but it resumed service in a few days.
In December 2007, SARFT issued a regulation requiring Internet films and music suppliers be licensed. A similar notice was reissued in 2009 and 2010.
According to techweb.com.cn, SARFT shut down more than 400 similar websites, including btchina.net, one of the biggest pirated film providers.
It said that a number of existing websites without licenses, including popular uuniao.com, will also face a possible suspension.
To avoid legal troubles, verycd.com has listed a disclaimer saying it will delete pirated works once copyright owners reach them, otherwise they won't accept any legal responsibility.
Wang Qian, a professor at the Intellectual Property School of East China University of Political Science and Law, confirmed the website's countermeasures are protected by current legislation. "But it's only temporary," he added.
"As long as the courts are convinced they violated owners' copyright, they will be penalized," Wang said, adding that verycd.com has lost in court in similar cases.
A website visitor nicknamed "skyey116r" on Sunday grumbled on verycd.com, saying "I can't live without the website's music". Some radical netizens even said they'd rather buy pirated films in the street.
"There's no such a thing as a free lunch as we all know," said Wang.
He said after the government's battle against piracy, he believes pirated music and films will disappear in China from both cyberspace and the streets.