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China pardons iTunes (but not Sting)

Music store returns - minus 'Songs for Tibet'

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The People's Republic has pardoned iTunes after access to the online music store was apparently blocked in reaction to selling a new Tibet-themed album during the Olympic games.

Apple customers in China can once again access the iTunes store, although the contested "Songs for Tibet" album released by the US-based activist group Art of Peace Foundation is unavailable there. Internet forums in China had been flooded with complaints that music hasn't been available for download from iTunes since August 18.

While there is no China-based iTunes service, users there can log onto sites from other markets to access the store. China has long blocked access to web sites expressing dissenting from the country's official positions.

But Chinese officials have now seemingly realized there's a defter way to eliminate digital undesirables on iTunes rather than nuking the entire store from orbit.

Whether the downtime was actually a direct result of the album's release is open to speculation — but the circumstances certainly appear suspicious.

The store was down just one day after the Art of Peace Foundation announced the release of the album, which features music by Sting, Alanis Morissette, Garbage and other mainstream acts. It also features a 15-minute lecture by the Dalai Lama, which is generally not a big hit at Chinese government parties.

APF claims that after it sent out a media release saying that over 40 Olympic athletes downloaded the album "in an act of solidarity," the music service was soon blocked. The group also stirred up Chinese officials during the Beijing Olympic games by offering athletes free downloads of the album and urging them wear an MP3 player as "a symbol of freedom and expression."

Both China and Apple have stuck to their tried-and-true policies of silence in the face of external controversy.

"We are aware of the log-on problems but we have no comment at the moment," Apple told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile there is no mention of the downtime at China.org.cn, a website operated by The People's Republic's Internet Information Center. The site does report, however, the album "has ignited strong indignation among Chinese netizens" and many have expressed they want to ban the album's singers and producers, especially Sting, John Mayer and Dave Matthews from Entering China. ®

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