VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, is a huge operation with upwards of 45 million daily users. Thanks to its file-hosting features it’s also one of the world’s largest unauthorized repositories of copyright music.
As a result the site has drawn criticism from record companies around the world and earlier this year was sued by a local label.
In June 2013, Studia Soyuz claimed that VKontakte was infringing its copyrights on more than 60 tracks and should therefore pay damages of 4,575,000 rubles ($144,000) to the label. The case has now been concluded and it didn’t go well for the company.
According to a statement on the website of the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and Leningrad, Soyuz were left high and dry after the court held that Vkontakte could not be held responsible for its users’ infringements.
The Court did recognize that VKontakte’s users had posted several dozen Soyuz-owned tracks to the file-sharing network but noted that none of VKontakte’s operators were directly involved in the “downloading, recording or dissemination” of the music detailed in the lawsuit. As a mere communications platform, VKontakte could not be held liable for its users’ actions provided it took action to remove unauthorized content once informed.
The judgment also considered some of the practicalities of holding the social network liable for the many hundreds of millions of actions carried out by its users every single day.
The Court recognized that it would be impossible to monitor all of the submissions to the site and accepted that assessing whether those submissions were also copyright-infringing would be beyond VKontakte’s abilities. Some artists, Soyuz’s included, had previously uploaded their own songs to the social network.
As a result the Court concluded that if any copyright infringing activity had taken place it would be the responsibility of the users who carried it out and VKontakte could not be held liable.
While the decision will be welcomed by the social networking site, it is believed that VKontakte may soon become a useful ally of the music industry.
Earlier this year the site’s founder said that talks were underway with Universal, Warner and Sony with a view to making their content available to the site’s users as part of a licensing deal.
Any positive agreement along those lines would be welcome by the United States Trade Representative, who previously labeled VKontakte a “rogue site.”