Copyright Holders Move to Block vKontakte, Russia’s Facebook

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Social networking giant vKontakte is facing the prospect of being blocked by ISPs in Russia after copyright holders took a complaint to court. According to a local anti-piracy outfit, vKontakte - which has dozens of millions of daily users - is not doing enough to take down unauthorized content.

When mentioned by US-based entertainment companies, Russian social networking giant vKontakte is often portrayed as a poor copyright partner that does little to deal with the huge amounts of infringement on its platform.

Indeed, vKontakte faces regular criticism from both the RIAA and MPAA, with various affiliated companies having taken the platform – which has an estimated 80 million users per day – to court on a number of occasions. However, vKontakte is now under threat locally, a threat it needs to take very seriously indeed.

For the first time ever vKontakte has been reported to the Moscow City Court for its apparent failure to protect copyrights. This Court has the power to order a site to be blocked by local ISPs based on complaints from copyright holders. Should those complaints persist, the Court has the power to order a site – even vKontakte – to be blocked on a permanent basis.

In this instance vKontakte is under fire from AZAPO, the Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet. The anti-piracy outfit represents several book publishers but the current complaint involves just a single title, Zahara Prilepina’s “Resident”.

“There are Public and ‘My Documents’ sections, which we have cleaned and vKontakte has deleted files based on our claim. But in one of the cases we have found that the content has remained in place. It turns out that vKontakte is not taking proper protection measures,” says AZAPO Director General Maxim Ryabyko.

Previous claims against vKontakte have been processed through the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg however AZAPO has tried that before and feels the process offered by the Court is too slow.

“We have accumulated a lot of history with vKontakte, including negative experiences. We decided to appeal to the Moscow City Court as claims filed with the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg are long and expensive, and the procedure is not quite clear to us,” Ryabyko notes.

Given that the Moscow City Court has the power to render vKontakte inaccessible in Russia to its hundreds of millions of signed-up users, perhaps the big question is why no one has reported the site to the Court before. Interestingly, Russia’s Izvestia cites anonymous rightsholders who claim that telecoms watchdog Roskomadzor asked them not to. The government agency apparently said that vKontakte should be given space since it had been cooperating with entertainment companies on piracy.

Clearly AZAPO didn’t get the memo but it appears that the anti-piracy group is more interested in getting a fair deal for its members than having vKontakte blocked.

“I know that negotiations are actively underway with the audio and film industries, but the authors of books do not perceive themselves as participants in the negotiation process,” says Ryabyko.

“Our goal is to urge vKontakte to adequately interact with the book industry.”

It’s understood that AZAPO would like vKontakte to move in a number of ways, each of which allows content (in whole or in part) to be made commercially available on the platform. The first option would see a full subscription platform put in place while a second envisages an ad-supported model. The third would see vKontakte users getting access to a sample of a book which later diverts to the author’s own website.

For its part, vKontakte appears less than impressed at being reported to the Moscow City Court.

“Instead of a constructive conversation we see legal claims imposed. The true aim of the plaintiff, in our opinion, is not to protect their rights but to put pressure on vKontakte,” says spokesperson Evgeny Krasnikov.

“Obviously, only an open dialogue about the models and methods to monetize content for rights holders will help the development of legal content market in Russia. Such communication we have had with the largest local book distributors.”

Whether AZAPO’s negotiating technique will bear fruit will be revealed in the months ahead.

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