The website YYeTs.com, one of China’s largest, longest-running, and last-remaining destinations for pirated, subtitled foreign content, was shuttered as part of a widespread police constraint on piracy on February 3. While the site is still live, none of its services work anymore.
The website was how the 24-year-old film school student watched hundreds of pirated U.S. television shows when growing up in northern China.
Bill Liang and the general public were heartbroken when they realized that Renren Yingshi, a popular video download and streaming service, might be gone for good. Liang feels like there is one place fewer in China through which they can expand their horizons.
Police in Shanghai arrested around fourteen people as they allegedly ran the website and app after a 3-month investigation into a suspected intellectual property breach. At the time of its closure, over 8 million of registered users and Renren Yingshi collected about 20000 pirated TV shows and movies.
According to the police, the website’s operators made 16M yuan or $2.5M from subscription fees, ads, and selling hard drives with pirated content in the past couple of years.
When asked by CNN Business, Renren Yingshi refused to give any comment.
The state-media and intellectual property experts appreciated the crackdown as a sign of China’s resolve to enforce copyright protection.
‘Generation Y’ say that the government-set roadblocks turn them to pirated websites
However, fans who relied on the website for uncensored foreign pirated content expressed their disappointment. Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platforms were filled with support for Renren Yingshi, thanking the website for opening a door for them to the world.
China is one of only four nations or regions, alongside Syria, North Korea, and Crimea, which does not permit access to online platforms, for example, the world’s most popular streaming platform, Netflix. China also strictly bounds on how many foreign films can be screened in cinemas each year. The content allowed to air in the state also faces heavy censorship.
Chinese millennials (also known as Generation Y) say that the government-set roadblocks leave them with little choice but to turn to pirated sites. Moreover, watching foreign shows and movies isn’t only a favorite pastime; however, it is also an opportunity to learn about the world; they’re willing to pay for legitimate access to uncensored, foreign, and pirated content.
Censorship Rules being Too Strict
Authorities have allowed only a few dozen foreign films to be screened in the state each year since the early 1990s. Moreover, only nine of the twenty-six Oscar best-picture winners were screened publicly in China from 1994 to 2019.
International streaming services, including Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, have also been incapable of cracking the market. For example, Netflix told shareholders in 2016 that the regulatory environment for foreign digital content services was challenging in China. A subsequent effort to partner with a local firm to distribute content failed.
The content allowed to air in China meanwhile needs to meet strict rules. The shows or movies with controversial themes (such as those that depict China in a bad light, depict taboo subjects like the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, or feature LGBTQ storylines) are kept out entirely. Moreover, since China lacks a film rating system, any Chinese regulators’ approved content is heavily edited to remove certain scenes, such as graphic-sex or violence.
The Beijing-based lawyer, Xu, said it is up to the public to do some self-reflection following the crackdown on Renren Yingshi. Moreover, he said that there is no free lunch globally, and they should not download or stream pirated films and TV shows anymore.