Central regions | Telecoms, media

Russia’s public seeks reconsideration of controversial anti-piracy law

14 Aug '13
The new Russian law enabling copyright holders to have infringing Internet content blocked in court came into effect earlier this month, but public initiatives may make the legislators reconsider.

Anti-piracy law: Internet sector furious, analysts divided

The new Russian legislation intended to stop online piracy came into effect on August 1. A long-awaited victory for copyright holders, the law facilitates the prosecution of website owners violating intellectual property rights and enables courts to issue warrants to block websites that violate copyright laws if illegal content is not removed within 24 hours.

As East-West Digital News, the international resource on Russian digital industries, reported last week, the legislation currently only applies to video content, but the lawmakers may consider extending its provisions to music later this year.

Some of the country’s leading Internet players sharply criticized the bill long before it was signed into law, trying in vain to persuade the legislators to consider rewording it.

The controversial law has even sparked rallies staged in late July across Russia’s regions that called for an ‘online strike.’

Anticipating the imminent passage of the bill, the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) launched RuTakeDown, a special website to assist Internet players in navigating the phraseological cobwebs of the new law and in protecting their rights in court.

With the law in full force, now it’s the copyright holders’ turn to take action. Oblivious to the law’s focus on video content, the Prospect Publishing House demanded earlier in August that MTS, a leading telecom operator, block access to an online version of a book. To support its claim, the publishing house referred to MTS as an “information mediator” responsible for the alleged violation.

However, the key target for copyright holders fury is Vkontakte (VK.com), Russia’s largest social network and a global hotbed of piracy, according to the US Trade Representative. On August 1, the very day the law came into effect, Movies Without Borders, a Russo-Swedish distribution company, filed a lawsuit with the Moscow City Court, accusing VK.com of violating its copyright for five new movies.

Aware of its reputation and under pressure from copyright holders, Vkontakte has not been idle over the past months. Bracing itself for the likely fallout of the new legislation, the social network was reported in late June to be deleting litigious multimedia content. A spokesman for the company dismissed reports on indiscriminate deleting later on but pointed out that Vkontakte would remove files “following legitimate complaints from copyright holders.”

With the clear understanding that the new law would eventually cover music as well, Pavel Durov, the CEO and co-founder of VK.com, leaked to the press his plans to “legalize” the network by entering direct talks with major international record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Music, and Universal Music. If they agree, Vkontakte may hope to steer clear of new litigations. The company already has battled Gala Records, Russia’s first private record, for the past two years over copyright violations.

Anastasia Kuznetsova and Alexandra Chekareva, St. Petersburg-based Ernst & Young lawyers, believe the law was adopted too rashly. In their opinion, dangerously limiting Internet users’ right to access information is a likely ramification of the legislation.

“We can only hope that upholding the rights of one group under the new law will not compromise the rights of another group, and that law enforcers will demonstrate enough wisdom and legal literacy to make amends for the haste of the lawmakers,” the EY lawyers told East-West Digital News.

Google, apparently skeptical of the new Russian legislation, suggested two weeks ago that Russia borrow the American anti-piracy procedures, which enable copyright holders who seek to protect their content to directly settle disputes with Internet companies.

An imminent reversal?

There’s a strong likelihood now that the current version of the law might be canceled and reworded.

The Russian Public Initiative website, a special online platform that the Russian Government has launched to heed the vox populi (public opinion), now has 100,000 votes demanding that the document be further worked on with sector experts involved.

Andrei Tumanov, a Russian State Duma lawmaker representing the Fair Russia party, doesn’t believe the current law will ever work, Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported earlier this week.

“When a law is adopted by non-specialists, and the legislators pass it without much knowing what it’s all about, it’s very bad. I agree that laws should be prepared by pertinent professional communities,” Mr. Tumanov said.

The 100,000 votes were cast for just about a month. Now, according to the Russian law, the current anti-piracy legislation must be subject to thorough reconsideration by a federal expert group.
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