Russia v. Italy over copyright violations
By Kateryna Fedorova
On November the 18th, 2013, Italy blocked, along with another nine file sharing websites, one of the largest Russian social networks, vk.com (or vkontakte.com, “vkontakte” literally meaning ” to be in touch”).
Vk.com not only functions as a traditional social networks (which allows for chatting, posting photos and commenting), but it is also a great online resource containing music, movies, TV shows and books.
This website also provides its users with an interface program for downloading music files. Its videos, however, are only available for streaming.
It goes without saying that this type of content violates copyright law. This was exactly the reason why the website was blocked in Italy. Vk.com, in fact, hosted a movie that had just been released in Italian cinemas. The social network appeared on the list of websites blocked by a decision of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome. This was due to the fact that the movie production and distribution company, Medusa Film, filed a complaint against the social network. Despite the fact that the movie has now been removed from the website’s content (only the trailer has remained available), Italy has continued to block the site.
However, any block can be bypassed, and the one imposed on Vk.com is no exception. In order to do so, it is only necessary to access an anonymous proxy (there are also those specially created for social networks), or to use a VPN (virtual private network). This can be done by downloading a program on your PC, laptop or tablet.
It is worth noting that on the same day some of Vk.com’s content was also blocked in Russia. This time, however, the reason behind the blocking was different. The website was blocked due to the extremist nature of some posts.
On the 1 August 2013, Russian federal law n.187, the so-called Piracy Act, came into force. The law provides a mechanism for blocking web sites with illegal content following the requests of those in possession of the copyright.
Initially, it was thought that the law would protect all kinds of information, however, after its amendment the law only references movies and TV shows and not music or books.
The procedure is as follows: the copyright holder may request to the court, as a preventive measure, to restrict access to the content that infringes his exclusive rights. The court evaluates the request and blocks the content of the site for no more than 15 days, during which the claimant must file an action, otherwise the content of the site gets unblocked. The court issues a writ to Roskomnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, which must send a notice to the hosting-provider within 72 hours in order to block the illegal content.
If within 24 hours the hosting-provider or administrator of the resource does not react, Roskomnadzor blocks access to the content of the site through the operator of the connection. If the court satisfies the claim, Roskomnadzor sends an order to the hosting-provider/web site administrator to remove the illegal content from the site within 24 hours.
For the users who download content that violates copyright, no penalty is issued. The law does not specify, however, what happens if the user downloads a file and, at the same moment, posts it using, for example, a torrent.
Technically, there are three ways to block access to a web site: blocking the IP-address, DNS or URL.
The first one has many disadvantages, for example, the possibility to bypass the block hiding your IP-address using a proxy, or the fact that many sites share the same IP-address creates a high risk of blocking other legitimate online resources.
The second method is the blocking of a domain name, i.e. the name of the site. When the user types it in the task bar, a specific DNS server determines a corresponding IP-address and the user’s browser can connect to the server of the requested website. When a web site is blocked, the DNS server breaks this connection and sends you to the address of a page containing the access failure notice. This system avoids blocking websites that are in good faith. The disadvantage is that an entire domain is blocked, and not just the page with illegal content.
The third way is to block the URL, i.e. the address of a specific web page. It is questionable how efficient this method is, since it is possible to move quickly the illegal content to another web page.
The law, however, does not specify the way resources should be blocked. It only specifies that the hosting-providers are required to “limit access to the corresponding information resource”.
Federal Law n.187 is also a result of Russia’s entrance into the WTO, which led to the assumption of certain obligations, one of which is the fight against piracy.
Also note that in August 2013, thus immediately after the federal law entered into force, a claim against vk.com was filed by a distributor company that accused the social network of a Piracy Act violation, posting a large number of movies. However, the claim was rejected, as the accuser wasn’t able to provide the documentation proving the exclusive rights.
In any case vk.com seems to have found a way to make video content legal. The website intends to sign a collaboration agreement with cinemaonline, which already has agreements with copyright holders. In this way, illegal videos would be replaced with their legal copies. Yet, in order for this to be possible, advertisements will be presented during all movies. It is thought that the biggest vk.com partner could be the video-hosting site RuTube, which belongs to Gazprom-Media holding.
Experts note, however, that the total elimination of illegal content would definitely lead to a dramatic reduction in the popularity of this resource.
On February the 1st, 2014, Federal Law 28.12.2013 n.398 came into force.
According to the text of the law, the Attorney General of the Russian Federation and his deputies are authorized to contact Roscomnadzor with statemenst in order to restrict access to information resources encouraging extremist activities, mass disorders and participation in mass public events.
This procedure can be initiated by the Attorney General of the Russian Federation and his deputies on the basis of Internet monitoring, as well as on the basis of notifications received from public authorities or citizens.
It is important to note that before 1 February, pre-trial blocking was only allowed for the resources containing pedopornography, promoting drug use or suicide, along with pirated video content.