iTunes Store back online in China after Tibet song leaves front page

iTunes Store was blocked in China two weeks after an album released by Tibet activists appeared. But now that the Olympics are over, it's available once again.

Graham Webster
Formerly a journalist and consultant in Beijing, Graham Webster is a graduate student studying East Asia at Harvard University. At Sinobyte, he follows the effects of technology on Chinese politics, the environment, and global affairs. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Graham Webster
2 min read

The iTunes Store was blocked in China two weeks after an album released by Tibet activists appeared, but after the Olympics Games concluded, it was available once again.

Silicon Hutong has written a concise summary of what happened:

- The album was featured on the front page of the site - a choice I would wager was made by Apple, not by the activist organization that produced the album;

- The album went live in the days leading up to the Olympics;

- Pro-Tibetan activists have been attempting to leverage Beijing's hosting of the Olympics to draw attention to their cause;

- The activists told the Associated Press that they had contacted athletes directly and provided free downloads to the athletes and urged them to play it in Beijing as an act of solidarity.

- The activists then issued a press release telling the world that this was, in effect, a protest, and that at least 40 athletes in the village had downloaded the tunes.

- The site was then blocked, fifteen days after the album went up.

- The Games ended, the athletes went home, and the site was unblocked.

- The album is available for purchase here in Beijing under the same conditions as everything else on iTunes - got a foreign credit card that bills to a foreign address, and the songs are yours.

The post goes on to examine at great length the ups and downs of Apple's apparent decision to feature this content. It also opines that "the content itself was not a problem - what set the Chinese government off was the concern over a potential protest in the Olympic Village. Apple was a target only to the extent that it was seen by the Chinese authorities as aiding that protest."

I tend to think this particular episode, in contrast to Yahoo China, Google China, and MSN's complicated dealings with Chinese censorship, is really not such a big deal. I also think this degree of examination of possible motivations on the part of the censors is a stretch.

It's very possible that rather than concerns specifically about a protest, the album (and whole store) was blocked after the activists' press release merely because that was the first the censors heard of it. Unblocking the store after the sensitive political period of the main Games is pretty standard behavior, just as many sites were restored after the actual unrest in Tibet earlier this year.