VKontakte (or Russia’s Facebook as it’s often known) is the largest European social network with 300 million registered users, around a third of which are active. Due to the way it hosts user content largely without question, VK carries huge amounts of infringing movies, music, TV shows.
Like similar sites, vKontakte has groups dedicated to endless regular topics. It also has groups dedicated to movie and TV show piracy inhabited by those looking to obtain content for free. Of course, copyright holders have the ability to take this content down via regular takedown notices, but like their counterparts in the West they’re tired of playing whac-a-mole.
To this end, copyright holders are now teaming up to put vKontakte under pressure to remove entire groups from where infringing content is being made available. Under the immediate spotlight are the ten largest groups specializing in movies and TV shows. They are huge.
Alexei Byrdin of the Internet Video Association informs Russia’s Izvestia that each group has a minimum of one million members while the largest has more than seven million. As a result the rightsholders’ anti-piracy group wants vKontakte to completely take them down.
“We have repeatedly appealed to the groups themselves to remove the content, but the complaints were not satisfied and content continued to be active,” says WebKontrol CEO Olga Valigurskaya, adding that if vKontakte wants to do the right thing it should either delete all the content or remove the groups altogether.
However, vKontakte’s owners over at Mail.ru (who own all three top social networking platforms in the country) see the situation somewhat differently, as do vKontakte themselves.
“In most cases we refuse to block communities specializing in video content as we consider this measure excessive,” a vKontakte spokesperson explained.
“Instead, we remove specific videos that violate the rights of a particular copyright holder, provided that the rightsholder has provided all the necessary documents. And managers of these communities are sent a notification about the inadmissibility of posting illegal content.”
Rightsholders wanting broad anti-piracy action and tech platforms demanding a precision approach is a common and growing theme online today. A similar war of words is playing out in both the United States and Europe, where whole sites are being censored and entertainment companies are demanding a “takedown, staydown” approach to copyright enforcement.
Whether they will get their way remains to be seen, but in the meantime the battle lines are being drawn in Russia – and unsurprisingly it’s copyright versus tech all over again.
“The platform should stop IP violations. If they cannot stop the violation in any other way, except to remove a whole group, then it is necessary to remove the group,” National Federation of the Music Industry (Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI) chief Leonid Agronov told Izvestia.
Agronov’s stance was predictably rejected by Sergey Grebennikov, director of the Regional Public Center of Internet Technologies (ROCIT), a non-profit with a mission to popularize the Internet.
“Deleting whole groups is unlawful,” he said. “Removals should concern only the videos, for which rightsholders have rights.”
There can be little doubt that the issue of infringing online content is largely descending into a worldwide battle not between copyright holders and actual pirates, but between entertainment companies and Internet platforms such as vKontakte, YouTube and Google. It won’t be settled any time soon.