Draft Law Orders Google to Remove Pirate Site Unblocking Advice

A draft bill just published by the Russian government foresees a future in which search engines more aggressively censor search results to protect copyright. Companies such as Google will be given just three days to remove links to proxy and mirroring services and also those that facilitate access to any site providing blockade circumvention tutorials.

google-waterDespite an enduring reputation for doing little to protect copyright online, in recent years the Russian government has passed tough legislation aimed at tackling so-called ‘pirate’ sites.

One of the most controversial additions was the introduction of a new law in 2013 which allowed entertainment industry companies to take cases to the Moscow City Court with a view to having non-compliant sites blocked at the ISP level. Sites that fail to respond to takedown demands are then given just 72 hours to do so, with a total (reversible) blockade the most aggressive outcome.

In 2015, Russia upped the pressure with the introduction of a new mechanism aimed at reducing instances of pirate site reoffending. Sites that have two cases brought against them and are found to be infringing now face a total lifetime block, a fate suffered by major torrent site RuTracker six months ago.

But like many other jurisdictions, Russia immediately discovered that after sites are blocked pirates remain determined to continue using them. As a result dozens of proxy and mirror sites have sprung up to facilitate access, reducing the efficacy of ISP blocks and frustrating copyright holders.

Earlier this year it was proposed that proxies and mirrors should be considered extensions of permanently blocked sites so that they can be quickly blocked and now there are hopes they can be rendered harder to find too.

In a draft bill just published by the Ministry of Communications these are described as “derivative sites” that feature a similar name and “completely or partially copy the information available on the original sites.” The bill tries to cover all angles by noting that “derivative sites” may also redirect users to blocked sites, provide services or information from blocked sites, or even translate blocked sites into other languages.

Furthermore, the bill also proposes that search engines including Google and Russian market leader Yandex will be required to remove links to sites that are setup to facilitate access to permanently blocked sites. Copyright holders will be given the opportunity to report such sites to search engines with an expectation that within three days they will cease providing links to those sites in their search results.

All services are covered, whether proxies or mirrors, but the bill also envisions going much further than just the sites themselves.

In an earlier case a web-blockade monitoring site was itself earmarked for blocking after providing tips on how to circumvent court-ordered blockades. With legislative amendments, Russia now intends to render the provision of circumvention advice a punishable offense.

If the bill is passed platforms offering circumvention advice directly will be subject to penalties ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($45-$75) for “entrepreneurial individuals” operating outside a legal entity, up to 100,000 rubles ($1,492) for legal entities.

Furthermore, the draft proposes that any services offering circumvention advice should also be removed from Google and other providers’ search listings via the mechanism detailed above.

The bill is still at the draft stage which means it could be subject to change but it seems likely that pressure to reduce access to workarounds of all kinds will continue through its path to final approval.

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