After Five Years of Blocking Sites, Russia’s No Closer to Beating Piracy

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Five years ago this week, Russia embarked on a site-blocking regime that was designed to drastically slow the piracy phenomenon. Currently, more than 5,000 sites remain blocked on copyright grounds, but is the country any closer to a solution than it was in 2013?

For reasons best known to rightsholders internationally, site-blocking is now one of the most favored anti-piracy mechanisms.

Five years ago, Russia decided that it too would join the movement, hoping to put a dent in rampant online sharing of copyrighted content.

August 1, 2013, new legislation came into force which allowed rightsholders to block video content that had been posted online illegally. A year later, the same protections were extended to other kinds of intellectual property, excluding photographic works.

In the months that followed, it became clear that some sites were being reported for copyright infringement on multiple occasions. This led to calls for repeat offenders to receive special treatment from the courts. On May 1, 2015, new rules made it possible for sites to be permanently blocked. Thousands of platforms have been affected.

Last October yet more legislative amendments came into force. These allowed rightsholders to target so-called ‘mirrors’, platforms that are functionally similar to sites that have already been blocked but manage to evade that fate. According to figures supplied by telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor and published by Russia’s RBC, 2,421 mirror sites have been blocked under the legislation.

Just a month later during November 2017, Russia tightened the law up once again, this time targeting VPN and anonymizer services that provide access to blocked sites. These must now connect to a national register of blocked sites to ensure they don’t facilitate access to such platforms. If they fail to do so, they can also be blocked.

Search engines haven’t escaped the clutches of the authorities either. They too must interface with government systems listing blocked sites in order to prevent any from appearing in search engine results. After a period of uncertainty as to how this should be carried out, search engines should be fully compliant by the end of September.

During the five years between Aug 1, 2013 and Aug 1, 2018, Roscomnadzor reports that it received 3,702 blocking orders from the Moscow City Court following 8,454 complaints by rightsholders.

“In total, the Moscow City Court’s rulings and applications by rightholders concerned 116,298 sites or pages of websites,” the watchdog reports.

“After receiving a notification from Roskomnadzor to prevent violation of the law, the vast majority of Internet resources remove pirated copies of films, music, etc.”

Roscomnadzor says that access is currently limited to around 8% (5,058) of web pages that previously had measures taken against them. The owners of 60,834 other web pages independently took measures to restrict access to pirated content, without waiting to be blocked by the authorities.

According to RBC, the Gazprom-Media owned channel TNT was the most active rightsholders over the past five years. The broadcaster filed 447 applications at the Moscow City Court for interim measures and 489 full claims.

The majority of respondents in cases handled by the Court were foreign hosting companies. However, getting these companies to appear in Russia seems to have proven impossible in the majority of cases.

“Neither foreign hosting providers, nor the overwhelming majority of their domestic colleagues bothered to attend the sessions of the Moscow City Court. For example, from August 2013 to August 2014, only three cases were recorded, when the defendant appeared in court,” RBC reports.

The defendant listed on most occasions in connection with blocking efforts was US-based CDN company Cloudflare. The company was named in 554 lawsuits with a further 300 relating to Russia-based hoster, uCoz and British Virgin Islands-based Compubyte. Hosting provider Inferno Solutions appeared in third place.

But despite many thousands of actions, it appears that copyright holders remain unhappy with the system.

“There are results, but there is no effectiveness,” says Dmitry Sychugov, general director of Amedia TV, a company that filed 169 applications for interim measures plus 60 lawsuits.

“In technical terms, [tools for rightsholders] are far behind the advanced solutions of pirates. The majority of users still turn to pirated sites for viewing video content.”

With other rightsholders describing the current system as effective as a “sieve”, Roscomnadzor is trying to remain upbeat.

“For five years anti-piracy legislation was supplemented by new norms, the implementation of which increased the effectiveness of copyright protection on the Internet,” the watchdog concludes.

It’s interesting to note that despite Russia’s site and content blocking system being one of the toughest in the world, rightsholders still aren’t happy. Whether additional legislative measures will move into place during the next five years will remain to be seen but until then, content will continue to leak through the mesh, at pace.

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