from the they-never-learn dept
It’s hardly a secret that the Chinese government is obsessed with controlling everything that its citizens see or do online — Techdirt has written dozens of stories on the topic over the years. But control within China’s borders isn’t enough, it seems: the authorities there now want the ability to censor material globally. The latest move concerns ‘Glory To Hong Kong’, which Wikipedia describes as:
a protest song that was composed and written by a musician under the pseudonym “Thomas dgx yhl”, with the contribution of a group of Hongkonger netizens from the online forum LIHKG during the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests. It was initially written in Cantonese and was eventually developed into various language versions starting with English.
It became the unofficial anthem of the pro-democracy protests, and was considered powerful enough to warrant an explicit ban in Hong Kong’s extreme National Security Law, passed in 2020. Now the Chinese authorities, through their proxies in the Hong Kong government, are seeking to censor the song from online services, reported here by the Guardian:
Variations of the song distributed by DGX Music, the team of creators who own the rights to the title, were no longer available on Spotify, Apple’s iTunes, Facebook and KKBOX worldwide on Wednesday, though a rendition performed by a Taiwanese band still remained. Several music videos were also accessible on YouTube on Thursday.
In a social media post on Wednesday, DGX Music said it was handling “technical issues unrelated to the streaming platforms” and apologised for the “temporary impact”.
Those “technical issues” are in fact legal ones. Article 19 explains:
On 6 June, the Hong Kong government sought a court order banning the ‘broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing in any way’ the protest anthem which the government claims constitutes secession. The injunction would block, and potentially criminalise, all internet intermediaries, from the streaming media platforms [Apple’s iTunes, Spotify, Facebook and Instagram’s Reels] to YouTube and Google, from providing access to the song for Hong Kong internet users.
Two weeks later, 24 human rights and digital rights groups wrote an open letter (pdf) to the Internet companies affected, asking them to oppose the injunction. They point out that this is the latest move to extend China’s online control and censorship around the world:
We note with heightened concern that this injunction would be used to censor “Glory to Hong Kong” globally, building on the growing tendency of Hong Kong authorities to apply abusive laws for actions committed outside Hong Kong’s territory. In June 2023, Hong Kong authorities charged a 23-year-old Hong Kong woman with “doing … acts with seditious intention” for Facebook posts that advocate Hong Kong independence while she was studying in Japan. The Hong Kong government was responsible for 50 instances in which Meta said it was forced to remove content globally between July 2020 and June 2022.
Facebook may have caved on those occasions, but to its credit Google refused to change its search results to display China’s national anthem, rather than the protest song, when users search for Hong Kong’s national anthem. We should have a better idea of what the Internet companies affected intend to do in this case on 21 July, when the first Hong Kong High Court hearing takes place. The stakes are high: if they agree to censor the protest anthem, China will be encouraged to demand more global takedowns of material it doesn’t like. On a more positive note, it seems that the Streisand Effect applies just as strongly here as elsewhere:
The attempt to ban the song outright pushed it to the top of the charts in Apple’s iTunes store in Hong Kong last week as people rushed to download the title.
They never learn.
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