Published On: Tue, Jul 15th, 2014

Leading by Example: A Report Card on Russia’s Anti-Piracy Law

You wouldn’t expect a country like Russia to support strong copyright laws, but the former U.S.S.R. has started to turn over a new leaf. There’s a long way for this quasi-communist country to go, but for now it seems like it’s heading down the right path.

photo Anonymous9000 via Flickr

photo Anonymous9000 via Flickr

A recent change in the law strengthens intellectual property rights in the country. This is drastic change from the way things are usually conducted. In Russia, it’s almost unheard of to pay for content on the Internet. Most of what you find is available illegally – that is, it’s available for free and without paying any licensing or royalties to the copyright holder.

In fact, most Russians would be hard-pressed to tell you about any legal sites. They simply don’t know that they exist. That’s how pervasive stealing is over there. This isn’t speculation, either. Of the 6,000 websites that contain Russian content, industry experts estimate that only seven of them are legal media channels. That means that only a stunning 0.12 percent of content is legally downloaded.

Russians, by and large, do not pay for things like Netflix, feature-length movies, music, or pretty much anything else on the Interwebs.

The new law No. 187-FZ, aims to hold information intermediaries accountable for the dissemination of pirated video. Of course, the law’s opponents have criticized the government of threatening Internet freedom.

But the Russian government isn’t shutting down sites that host downloadable files, where file transfers flow freely between users. What they’re doing is holding more and more sites accountable for their actions. Users are also turning to bittorrent software clients like Vuze that encourage the sharing of copyright free material and creative commons files.

photo by rotemliss via wikimedia commons

photo by rotemliss via wikimedia commons

So, if a site has possession of copyrighted content, and there are no licenses paid to the holders of that copyright, the courts will hold that distributor of the content liable. Expensive litigation is expected to keep people honest. And, it appears to be working.

Legal content downloads are up by 30 percent since the law’s passing. Yet, Oleg Tumanov, the founder of IVI.ru, a major Hollywood partner and streaming portal (similar to Hulu), argues that it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine.

It’s unclear that the law is going anything to motivate Russians to legally purchase content. It should be noted that IVI.ru’s traffic has doubled its traffic and significantly increased its subscriber-base.

Tumanov argues that this is the result of the company’s own hard work, marketing, and investment. It’s now the largest legal content distributor in Russia.

As it stands, the law does nothing to dissuade users from downloading illegal content – there simply are no provisions in the law holding users responsible. The onus is all on the distribution channels.

Whether this actually works out in the long run remains to be seen. Still, if users aren’t getting content from distribution channels with centralized servers, it might get them from content file-sharing sites similar to BitTorrent. If that happens (it already does to some extent), then the shift to legal content purchasing might be short-lived.

What’s needed is across-the-board improvements in how intellectual property is protected. That might be a tough sell though in a country where the idea of “content wants to be free” seems to be baked right into the culture.

Guest Author :

Corey Dudley studies international laws. He especially enjoys researching the effects of international web laws and the precedents set for the highly connected modern world online.

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