ICP License in China

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In China, an Internet Content Provider (ICP) License plays an important role in when it comes to online activities and ensuring compliance with local regulations. This license is required by individuals or organizations that wish to operate a website or engage in any other internet related service. Here we explore various aspects of the ICP license and its importance.

What is an ICP?

ICP stands for Internet Content Provider (ICP).

As China maintains strict control over websites, games, apps, and e-commerce within its borders, any “internet content provider” must first register for licenses with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to be able to post information and/or do business online.

The requirement was instated in September 2000 by the Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China and Articles 3 and 4 of Administrative Measures on Internet-Based Information Systems:

Article 3. Internet-based information services are divided into services of a commercial nature and services of a non-commercial nature.

Commercial internet-based information services refer to compensatory services which provide information to or create web pages for online users through the Internet.

Non-commercial internet-based information services refer to non-compensatory services which supply, through the Internet, to online users information which is open to and shared by the general public.

Article 4. The State shall implement a license system for internet-based information services of a commercial nature, and implement a filing-for-record system for internet-based information services of a non-commercial nature.

No one shall engage in internet-based information services without having obtained a license or having completed the filing-for-record procedures.

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What types of ICP Permits are Available?

There are two types of ICP permits available in China. Depending on the app, game, or platform, your enterprise may require one or both:

  • ICP Filing (ICP备案) – The ICP filing is a legal requirement to host a website in China. It is also referred to as an ICP Beian or ICP Recordal. It is required for non-commercial websites by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and administered at the provincial level on a per-domain basis. You will need a separate ICP Filing for each top-level domain.For non-commercial sites (sites that are purely informational and not involved in selling goods or services), this is the only ICP required. You cannot generate revenue with an ICP Filing, so if the purpose of your site is to generate revenue, then you will need an ICP License instead. ICP Filing guidelines were established in 2005 in Administrative Measures For the Filing of Not-For-Profit Internet Information Services.The numbers follow the format 京ICP备12345678号, where the first character indicates the province where the filing was issued. Your ICP Filing will be registered and accessible through an online database, and no paper certificate will be issued.
  • ICP License (ICP许可证) – An ICP License allows a Chinese company to publish a website, platform, or software in China that generates revenue or provides a platform for others to generate revenue. Its official name is 信息服务业务(仅限互联网信息服务). It is also referred to as an ICP ZhengICP Commercial License, or a B25 ICP License, as it is regulated under category B25 in the Value-Added Telecommunication Services (VATS) licensing system.An ICP License is issued on a per-company basis. Your business will still need to submit an ICP Filing for each top-level domain you use.These numbers follow the format 京ICP证12345678号, where the first character indicates the province where the license was issued.ICP Licenses are required for:
    • any commercial website (a website that is not purely informational)
    • paid games or games that have in-app payments and/or in-app advertising
    • apps that have in-app payments and/or in-app advertising
    • SaaS platforms
    • app stores or game stores
    • online marketplace for goods, services or information
    • online games
    • live streaming platforms (although an additional, separate license is also required for this as well)
    • community platform services (a platform for question and answer, social sharing or communication)
    • real-time interactive services (platorms with real-time communication, interactive voice IVR, and video call functions)
    • information protection and processing services (mobile assistants, anti-virus software)
    • shrinking query services (which are not included in browser, with content retrieval in app)
    • information release and express services (maps, discount networks, libraries, life service and information browsing webpages)

What are the Benefits of Getting an ICP Filing or ICP License?

  • You can host your site in China, so it will load faster and is less likely to be blocked by the Great Firewall of China.
  • You will be eligible to use the “.cn” and “.com.cn” domain names, which helps SEO and increases credibility.
  • Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, gives preference to sites hosted in China.
  • You will enjoy a significant advantage over competitors who host outside of China.Market Entry Ad resized final

Can I avoid getting an ICP?

If you want to host a website in China, your  business is required to get an ICP Filing.

In some cases, companies decided to host their website outside of China that targets the Chinese market, which may be accessible to Chinese users. However, websites that do not have an ICP Filing are at risk of being blocked in China. Businesses should also keep in mind that if their content is hosted on a shared IP address, they would be blocked if anyone else using that same IP gets blocked for any reason. Once your site is blocked, there is no recourse to have it unblocked.

Having an ICP Filing and hosting inside China means that your content has been submitted and approved. However, having it approved does not protect your site from being taken down or blocked in the future if your content later violates Chinese laws and regulations.

Some businesses will host their Chinese website in Hong Kong because the rules for hosting there are different.

Apps and Games

In order to publish or distribute an app or game in China, by law you will need either and ICP Filing or ICP License (depending on the nature of the app or game). In the past, the Apple App Store China and many Android app stores took a more laxed approach at enforcing this however, this position is now changing.

When it comes to receiving money from users or customers in China – whether through an app, game, SaaS or other platform – the only way to avoid getting an ICP License is by partnering with a Chinese company that already has one.

Therefore publishing your app or game with AppInChina is an easy way to avoid getting an ICP License. By partnering with us, you would still need an ICP Filing (which we can help you acquire), but you would not need to go through the process of applying for an ICP License – even if your app, game or platform collects payments – as AppInChina already has this license.

Who Can Get an ICP Filing (Beian)?

Who Can Get an ICP License (Commercial)?

  • Chinese-owned businesses with a Chinese business license.
  • Sino-foreign joint ventures where the proportion of foreign investment does not exceed 50%.

Can a Foreign (non-Chinese) Company Receive an ICP?

It is important to understand that foreign companies that do not have a Chinese entity are not eligible to receive either an ICP Filing or ICP License. Companies who have representative offices in China are not eligible for the ICP Filing or License, as a company is required to possess a registered business license.

How can a foreign company get an ICP License or ICP Filing to publish an app or game in China?

For individuals or businesses wanting to get an ICP License in China, the best option is to partner with a company who has expertise in helping businesses obtain ICP Filings and Licenses. This ensures that you follow the process correctly and have all the information you need to successfully run your business or project in China.

Get in touch with us immediately if you have any questions on setting up a business in China or want to learn more about obtaining an ICP License.

This article has been complied together with App in China, who assist companies with localization, e-commerce, social media and more.