New Law Requires Google & Apple to Remove Pirate Apps or Face ISP Blocking

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Google, Apple and other Internet platforms that offer copyright-infringing movie, TV show and music apps, face the possibility of being blocked by ISPs in Russia after a new law came into effect this week. The draconian measure will only come into play if sites offering pirate apps fail to quickly comply with copyright complaints filed by local telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor.

Pirate AppleFor well over a decade copyright holders have been developing their capabilities to block sites at the ISP level. Specially crafted “no fault” injunctions obtained around the world mean that thousands of sites are now inaccessible (at least directly) by local audiences.

Of course, piracy hasn’t stood still since the first blockade was put in place in Denmark around 2006. Site operators have come up with various techniques to nullify ISP blocking but over the past several years a new threat has emerged. Piracy-enabling apps that provide access to movies, TV shows, music and live sports are now favored by millions of users and they are not so easy to block.

These apps typically aggregate content from a range of underlying pirate mechanisms, which can move, shift and mutate at the will of their developers. Blocking this content is a grand game of whack-a-mole so, over in Russia, copyright holders and the government have come up with new legislation to restrict access to the apps themselves.

New Law Will Target Distributors of Piracy-Enabling Apps

After two years in the making, this summer the final text of new amendments to copyright law were adopted by the State Duma. After being signed by President Putin the law came into effect this week, October 1, 2020, with a goal to put pressure on app developers and the pirate app ecosystem itself, rather than tackle illegal content directly.

While apps of all kinds need developers, those developers need a platform from where to reach the public. Given today’s mobile markets, that’s likely to mean Google Play or Apple’s App Store which together dominate the market.

Being listed on either is a great start to building a large audience for a pirate app so the new law wants to stop that in its tracks, before it becomes too much of a problem. All app distributors, therefore, will have to remove pirate apps quickly from their platforms or face the consequences.

One Way or Another, Pirate Apps Must Be Removed Quickly, Or Else

The system will be implemented as follows. Copyright holders will file complaints about pirate apps with telecoms regulator Roscomnadzor, which will determine, within 72 hours, who is hosting the software. This could be Apple or Google, another index of apps, or indeed any other web resource.

Once the location has been identified, Roscomnadzor will send a copyright infringement notice (in English and Russian) directly to the platform detailing the infringing content in the complaint and whose rights it breaches. Along with that will come a demand to restrict access to that content which in most cases is likely to mean a complete removal of the app itself.

The platform will then be required to identify the person who uploaded the software, typically its developer, that a notice of infringement has been filed. The developer or other responsible party will then have 24 hours to address the infringement within their software, such as the provision of copyright-infringing movies or TV shows. This could mean implementing restrictions so that the app doesn’t continue to infringe or even the wholesale removal of the app from the distribution platform itself.

Responsibility Ultimately Falls On The App Distributor

If the developer takes no action to remedy the situation, the responsibility for preventing ongoing infringement will fall back to the app distribution platform, such as Apple, Google or any other site/system with similar functionality. They will then have to remove or block access to the software to avoid becoming a target themselves.

“In case of refusal or inaction of the owner of the software application, the owner of the information resource on which the software application is located, or another person who provides the placement in the information and telecommunication network, including the Internet, of the software application, are obliged to restrict access to the corresponding software application no later than the expiration of three working days from the date of receipt of the notification,” the law reads.

Failure to Comply Will Mean ISP Blocking

In the event that neither the software developer nor the distributor takes remedial action to prevent the infringement listed in the complaint, Roscomnadzor will now be able to issue an instruction to have the distributor itself blocked by all Internet service providers in Russia.

Whether ISPs will be able to precisely prevent access to specific apps will remain to be seen but in the past there have been instances of over-blocking due to technical issues or limitations, leaving other aspects of platforms or indeed their entire operations blocked in Russia. The new law doesn’t seem to require surgical blocking either.

“In case of refusal or inaction of the owner of the information resource, the hosting provider or another person specified [..] shall be obliged to restrict access to the relevant information resource immediately after the expiration of a day after receiving the [original] notification,” it reads.


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