HONG KONG – China has moved to restrict videos online — including those posted on video-sharing Web sites — to state-controlled sites and to require those Internet providers to delete and report a variety of content.
It wasn't immediately clear how the new rules would affect YouTube and other providers that host Web sites based in other countries that are available in China.
A spokesman for San Bruno, Calif.-based YouTube said the restrictions "could be a cause for concern, depending on the interpretation."
Tudou.com, which claims to be China's largest video sharing Web site, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
The new regulations, which take effect Jan. 31, were approved by both the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Information Industry and were described on their Web sites Thursday.
Under the new policy, Web sites that provide video programming or allow users to upload video must have a permit and be either state-owned or state-controlled.
The majority of Internet video providers in China are private, according to an explanation of the regulations posted on Chinafilm.com, which is run by the state-run China Film Group.
Video that involves national secrets, hurts the reputation of China, disrupts social stability or promotes pornography will be banned. Providers must delete and report such content.
"Those who provide Internet video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism ... and abide by the moral code of socialism," the rules say.
The permits are subject to renewal every three years and operators who commit "major" violations may be banned from providing online video programming for five years.
Adhering to the new rules could be daunting for YouTube, where about 10 hours of online video covering a wide range of topics is uploaded to the site every minute.
The video-sharing site, which is owned by Google Inc., already faces allegations that it should do more to block the distribution of clips that infringe on copyrights.
None of YouTube's video-hosting computers is in China, but the government there could still block access to the site from within China.
YouTube hopes the rules won't cut it off from the rapidly growing number of Chinese residents with Internet access, spokesman Ricardo Reyes said.
"We believe that the Chinese government fully recognizes the enormous value of online video and will not enforce the regulations in a way that could deprive the Chinese people of its benefits and potential for business and economic development, education and culture, communication, and entertainment," Reyes said.
China ranks as the world's second largest Internet market with a total audience of about 164 million, including people who surf the Web from public computers, according to the research firm comScore Inc.
Only the United States, with about 182 million Internet users, boasts a larger online audience.
YouTube says people around the world watch more than 200 million videos on its site each day. It declined to specify how much of its traffic comes from China.
Google and other major Internet companies like Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. all have set up operations in China in hopes of making more money from online advertising as the country's economy grows.
But doing business in China also has required the companies to obey laws that stifle and punish free speech, raising the ire of U.S. politicians and human rights activists around the world.
In the biggest backlash so far, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo was attacked in Congress after providing information about the online activities of two Chinese journalists who were subsequently imprisoned. Both journalists are serving 10-year prison sentences.
In November, Yahoo settled a lawsuit, agreeing to pay the attorneys' fees of the journalists. Yahoo also said it would "provide financial, humanitarian and legal support to these families." No other details of the settlement were disclosed.