Online piracy still an issue in Russia despite tighter legislation

Online piracy still an issue in Russia despite tighter legislation
Five years since stricter anti-piracy legislation was enacted in Russia, protection of intellectual property in the country still needs improvement.
By Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow September 12, 2018

Five years since stricter anti-piracy legislation was enacted in Russia, protection of intellectual property in the country still needs improvement.

On August 1, 2013, an anti-piracy law came into effect, and several amendments since then have made the Russian anti-piracy legislation even tougher. The measures gave copyright holders a stronger hand in combating online piracy, which at the time was estimated to cost legitimate companies in Russia as much as $2bn a year in lost revenues.

The law's main feature was that it gave web site owners just three days to take down illegal content or face being shut down. Copyright holders no longer had to go through a long and cumbersome legal process to prove their ownership of digital content.

Roskomnadzor, Russia's communications watchdog, was put in charge of handling copyright infringement complaints. The agency was given the right to issue a warning to web sites containing illegitimate video content and completely shut them down unless the content was not removed.

That practice was extended to cover all kinds of copyrighted digital content a year later.

In May 2015, the anti-piracy legislation was made even stricter, allowing courts to perpetually shut down web sites for repeated copyright infringements as long as rights holders were able to prove that.

Since then, 1,182 web sites have been permanently shut down, Roskomnadzor announced.

Under a new batch of amendments that came into effect in October 2017, rights holders obtained the opportunity to request blocking so called "mirrors" – copies of originally blocked web sites. So far, nearly 2,500 mirrors of web sites with pirated content have been shut down, according to Roskomnadzor.

In a move to further tighten the anti-piracy regulations, the government suggested shortening the period in which allegedly pirated content has to be removed at Roskomnadzor's request from current 72 hours to 24 hours, but it isn't yet clear when the measure will be enacted.

Rights holders believe that the anti-piracy measures have made a positive impact, but are not sufficient.

Growth in revenues of legitimate online video services is generally viewed as a sign that people have been gradually switching from pirated web sites to properly run services.

Last year, revenues of legitimate online video services in Russia were up 60% up year on year to RUB7.7bn ($116bn), while revenues from subscription skyrocketed by 91% to RUB4.5bn ($70mn), according to TMT Consulting.

Still, rights holders are sceptical.

"There have been some [positive] results, but there hasn't been enough effectiveness," Dmitry Sychugov, general director of Amedia TV, an online video service that actively fights against the pirating of its content, was quoted as saying by RBC.

He added that rights holders' options for protecting their materials are still behind technological solutions available to pirates and that the majority of users still turn to pirate web sites for free content.

Recently, rights holders have been increasingly unhappy with the online giant Yandex' search engine for providing links to illegitimate web sites.

Between 60% and 80% of all traffic to illegal web sites is directed by search results, claims the association for copyright protection on the internet.

"And while Google removes pirate web sites from search results, and the proportion of illegitimate web sites is no higher than 5-7%, for Yandex, this proportion could be as high as 30-40% for digital books, " Maksim Ryabyko, the association's general director, was quoted as saying by RBC. "You can't remove links to pirated content from Yandex search results."

But Yandex shrugged off accusations of complicity in online piracy, claiming that it is in compliance with the existing anti-piracy legislation, which sufficiently protects rights holders.

Meanwhile, users actively apply proxy servers and other technological tools to get access to illegitimate web sites that are not completely shut down, but blocked on Russian territory.

Among those web sites are torrent trackers, which remain a major source of pirated material. A 2015 court battle against one of the biggest torrent trackers, Rutracker.org, led in blocking access to it, but the web site moved to servers outside Russia and continued to operate.

Although it suffered a decline in user numbers, Rutracker.org is still up and running, with a monthly audience of just under 2mn in the January-June period of 2018, according to research company Mediascope.

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