Apple's iTunes movies and books services suspended in China

Market suspects the shutdown was due to iTunes Movies' inclusion of a controversial Hong Kong movie, which was banned on the Chinese mainland due to its political standpoint.

Less than seven months since starting operations in China last September, Apple's iTunes Movies and iBooks services were shut down in the country last week as the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) vows to regulate China's internet content, according to a report by Hong Kong Economic Times.

Users on the Chinese mainland will encounter a message indicating the services are unavailable when trying to access the iTunes Movies and iBooks Store. But the shutdown was reportedly only affecting those who registered their Apple accounts on the mainland.

Apple has confirmed the shutdown, saying it wants to restore services as soon as possible, but failed to provide a time frame.

The reason behind the suspension remains unclear, but some news reports attributed the Hong Kong independent movie Ten Years, which recently became available on Apple's iTunes store in Hong Kong. The movie was banned on the Chinese mainland as it portrays diminished human rights and freedom in the city by the year of 2025, as a result of handover back to China in 1997.

But according to the Hong Kong Economic Times, the shutdown took place before the inclusion of the movie on Apple's iTunes Movies, suggesting it was a consequence of other unknown reasons.

A recent regulation in China, coming into effect last month, "prohibits foreign ownership and joint ventures in online publishing and stipulate that all content be stored on servers in China", according to a Reuters report in February.

The rules also demand an approved Chinese entity to get approval first if it wants to engage in a "cooperative project" with a foreign-related enterprise, according to Reuters.

The Greater China market, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is currently Apple's largest market outside the United States. Apple has invested heavily for content-related revenue after lacklustre sales of iPhones and iPads worldwide, including in the Chinese market.