By Kim Tong-hyung
Google has banned subscribers to its Korean blogging platform, Textcube (www.textcube.org), from uploading songs onto their blogs, citing the country's new anti-file sharing provisions aimed at thwarting online piracy. This is the first time that the U.S. giant has disabled its bloggers from posting music files on their personal Web pages.
As of Monday, Textcube users were blocked from uploading MP3, WMA, WAV and other types of music files on their blogs, while existing songs were blinded and are now accessible only to the logged-in owners of the blogs.
Music on Textcube blogs is now limited to the short samples sold by Soribada (www.soribada.com), a music downloading site, company officials said.
``We will limit the uploading of music files to protect the copyright of songs and protect our users from possible damages from violating the law,'' Google Korea (www.google.co.kr) said in a statement.
``We believe that these are appropriate measures to protect digital copyright.''
Predictably, the move is touching off fierce criticism from Internet users who are accusing Google of clipping their freedom to use copyrighted content.
Other blogging services, such as Daum's Tistory (www.tistory.com), provide search functions that enable bloggers to identify copyrighted content before uploading them.
``Google decided to burn the house down just to catch a mosquito,'' said a blogger called ``sid S. Jeong.''
``Bloggers should be provided with the freedom to use their own music files and also a system that makes it easier for them to purchase the transmission rights for songs from copyright holders.''
Google Korea officials claim that the changes were inevitable, as the company has yet to develop a tool to differentiate between legal and illegal content.
``We are working on it,'' a company official said.
The government has been strengthening its clampdown on illegal copies on the Web. From July, the country will enforce a new anti-file sharing provision that allows regulators to shut down Web sites after a third warning over copyright infringement, regardless of whether or not the copyright holders complained about it.
Internet users accused of illegally sharing copyrighted content will also be subject to the ``three-strikes'' rule, having their Web accounts severed. Critics argue that the new law could be abused as a censorship tool, due to its loose definition of ``copyrighted content,'' which could be anything from music and movies to news stories and blog postings.
Textcube is a product created by Tatter and Company (TNC), which was bought by Google last year, marking the Internet giant's first major acquisition in Korea. Textcube remains the only Google service that is operated by a Korea-based server owned by the company, thus making it subject to government rules. Google out-sources its servers to provide its digital map services here.
Industry watchers see Google's strong measures on Textcube as a gesture to improve its souring relationship with the Korean government.
Last month, Google blocked users from posting videos and comments on the Korean site of YouTube (kr.youtube.com), its online video service.
This was to avoid the new regulations that mandate Internet users to make verifiable real-name registrations on all Web sites with more than 100,000 daily visitors, which means they have to submit their resident registration codes, the Korean equivalent of social security numbers.
Complying with the real-name rules would have been an enormous risk for Google, as the government could later demand user information from the company, not a precedent it wants to show to other countries.
However, this clearly miffed government officials, with the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, threatening to look for legal grounds to ``sanction'' Google.