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Pakistani artists challenging YouTube ban

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A government ban on YouTube in Pakistan is being challenged in court Wednesday
  • Pakistani artists who gain exposure through the video channel are hoping the ban is lifted
  • Pakistanis lost access to YouTube last year after clips from a controversial film appeared on the site

(CNN) -- YouTube is a source of entertainment and news for billions around the world, but Pakistanis have lost access to the video site for almost a year after clips of the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims" prompted a government ban.

That ban will be challenged for the first time in court Wednesday -- and activists, as well as artists, some of whose careers were launched on YouTube, are keeping their fingers crossed.

Rapper, singer and songwriter Adil Omar is a musician that has relied on social networking sites to launch his career. Even without a record label, he successfully used YouTube to reach both a domestic and international audience -- collaborating with international artists like Cypress Hill, Everlast, Xzibit and guitarist Slash from Guns 'N Roses.

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YouTube "has put me out there internationally. I've worked with major artists, been in the mainstream press," Omar said.

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But soon after the YouTube ban, response to his album plummeted.

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"I'm getting about a tenth of the promotion I was getting before and I have about a tenth of the sales I was initially getting," he said.

Numbers on YouTube reflect his comment. Omar's last major single "Paki Rambo," released before the YouTube ban, generated more than 320,000 hits. One of his first singles after the ban got just over 30,000 clicks.

Protests erupted across the Arab world last year when trailers for "Innocence of Muslims," an anti-Islam film that mocks the prophet Mohammed, appeared online.

YouTube is not the only social media website that was taken away from Pakistani Web users. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr all have been banned in the past. The recent ban on YouTube, however, is the longest-running act of online censorship in Pakistan's history.

Bytes for All, an organization that fights for digital rights in Pakistan, has worked to lift this censorship -- running a poster campaign, filing petitions and writing to the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

"We do not need dictatorial nannies to tell people what to watch and what not to watch and what decision to take and how to take it. Because after all, it's a democracy. It's not a dictatorship anymore," said Furhan Hussain from Bytes for All.

The ban on YouTube "is in direct violation of the constitution of Pakistan. It violates the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of access to information of the citizens of Pakistan," he said.

CNN reached out for comment repeatedly to Pakistan's minister of information technology but got no response.

Omar, like the activists from Bytes for All, hopes the ban will be lifted soon.

"What I'd like to see happen is for YouTube to open up again. For Pakistani artists and musicians to be able to earn money again and make a living ... to be able to reach an international audience again."

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