Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

8 August 2019

Russian regulator pays price for content piracy crackdown

Russian hacking may be as rampant as ever but at least its regulator Roskomnadzor, otherwise known as the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, can offer evidence of a crackdown on content piracy. Allegedly a disgruntled pirate set fire to one of its offices on at least three occasions, with a prosecution case currently ongoing.

This has not stopped the regulator continuing to up the ante against pirates in a country where foreign owned rights holders especially had virtually no protection against content theft until just a few years ago. The first major signal of that changing came in August 2015 when Warner Bros Entertainment, as it then was, became the first foreign copyright holder to have an anti-piracy case upheld in a Russian court. The way for this had been cleared two years earlier in August 2013 when an extension to Russia’s anti-piracy laws made them applicable to TV shows and movies. Then the scope of that law was extended further to include protection against illegal posting on the internet of any works protected by copyright and/or neighboring rights, with the exception of photographs or works made using similar imaging methods.

In the Warner Bros case, the Moscow City Court enforced copyright protection against 20 websites distributing the movie “Entourage” without the copyright holder’s permission or other legal authorization. Out of these 20 websites, 16 restricted access to the movie voluntarily but the other four required threats by the court to block the infringing webpages.

Since then there have been several cases of Russian ISPs resisting the anti-piracy measures, notably a standoff between the regulator and one of the country’s largest web operators Yandex in August 2018. That was significant because the victim was not a foreign company but Russia’s own Gazprom-Media, which had accused Yandex of failing to remove from its search results all sites containing pirated copies of shows and serials for which it held the rights. Yandex stalled and in the end the links were only removed at the last minute. This prompted a rapprochement through negotiations between Russian media and internet companies, leading to a memorandum of co-operation signed in November 2018 by, among others, Yandex itself.

This memorandum is quite draconian, requiring participating ISPs to connect their operations to a database of copyright-infringing websites, synchronizing with that every five minutes and ensuring newly listed material is removed from relevant search engines and sites within six hours. We say “participating ISPs” because the scheme has been voluntary, but with plans to make it compulsory.

Indeed, there are still sites not conforming and only in the last week Roskomnadzor has taken more measures to protect broadcasters’ intellectual property. Acting on a ruling by the Moscow City Court again, it has restricted access to sites that infringe copyright by distributing the TV channels Channel One, Dom Kino, Bober, Channel One World Television, Telecafe, First Music, O!, Time: near and far.

In the case of Channel One and Channel One World Television it has sent notifications to remove pirated content to the administrators of 39 internet sites from the Kartina TV site pool. Six of the sites complied in the statutory period and the remaining 33 were placed on that register of pirate internet resources, access to which operators are required to limit.

We should not give the impression that the Russian regulator has suddenly become a convert to a free and open internet where legitimate rights are upheld but otherwise users are free to roam where they want. That same Roskomnadzor has been upholding increasingly Orwellian censorship laws repressing criticism of the government for example and has been targeting VPNs that allow Russian citizens to access offending foreign sites. In March 2019 it issued formal notices to 10 non-Russian VPN providers demanding that they connect to Roskomnadzor’s list of banned sites and start complying with blocks within 30 business days. Failure to comply would lead to their services being blocked in Russia, or at least access being severely limited, rather as happens on a large scale in China.

Admittedly this threat was first made in 2017 and not implemented but this time there are signs it will be if the VPNs persist in failing to comply. The censorship rules were introduced in 2016 and described by Edward Snowden – that self-appointed guardian of our privacies and online freedoms – as Russia’s “Big Brother Laws”. Having been living in Russia since leaking those infamous highly classified National Security Agency documents in 2013 Snowden has come to realize the grass is an even duller shade of green there but has little choice but to remain to avoid even greater restrictions on his movement.

At least in the case of content piracy the Russians have decided their interests are aligned with ours.