Russia Could Unblock Pirate Sites If They Agree to Censor Their Catalogs

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More than 16 months into a war the Kremlin anticipated would be over in roughly three days, authorities in Russia continue to come up with 'innovative' ideas to limit the severity of the damage inflicted on its own entertainment sector. The latest plan is to start unblocking thousands of pirate sites but only if they comply with a set of stringent conditions they already ignore.

unblockerThe Ministry of Digital Development, Telecommunications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation is the government body responsible for the development and implementation of IT policy and regulation.

In common with other government departments, ‘MinTsifry’ is working hard to convince business leaders across the country that everything is going according to plan. Russia is fully capable of weathering multiple current and developing crises as long everyone pulls together, invests their own cash, and doesn’t expect any subsidies from the government, the sales pitch goes.

Ongoing projects include the development of domestic software to replace Western products now unavailable in the market, training schoolchildren to program in the summer holidays, encouraging sales of domestic telecoms equipment and compensating local buyers for the difference in price, and promoting the growth and importance of the local IT industry.

Late last week, MinTsifry tabled new plans to boost the entertainment sector but who is supposed to benefit and how isn’t clear.

Still No Answer to Western Companies’ Pull Out

Major Western entertainment companies began leaving the Russian market more than a year ago and since then the government has struggled to come up with any obviously viable solution. Plans to legalize software piracy, turn a blind eye to piracy of Western movies, put the state in charge of all online piracy to generate revenue, or legalize piracy like Belarus did in January, have done little to solve the country’s problems.

Speaking with local news outlet RBC last week, the Ministry of Digital Development confirmed that it has been discussing the possibility of “waiving restrictions” on access to sites offering unlicensed video content from Western companies. More bluntly, pirate sites whose activities were considered so persistent and egregious that all ISPs were ordered to block them at some point, may soon find themselves unblocked.

How the digital development of Russia will be furthered by such an unusual move isn’t clear but the current plans do come with some strings attached.

Pirate Sites Must Implement Content Restrictions

A representative of MinTsifry told RIA that if it decides that pirate sites can be removed from Russia’s blocking register, unblocking would only be available to sites that a) offer pirated content from Western countries and b) those who comply with additional restrictions laid down by the authorities.

“The Ministry of Digital Development, together with industry representatives, is working on proposals to abandon restrictions on access to sites that provide unlicensed video content of Western majors, on certain conditions,” the source said.

“Such video content should not be legally presented in Russian online services, should not be rented in cinemas, and should not contain extremist materials and LGBT propaganda,” the source said.

Pirates and Compliance Tend Not to Mix

It’s doubtful that pirate sites will be queuing up to take advantage of this scheme, even in the unlikely event it does come into force.

The proposition here is that pirate sites cannot offer any locally produced movies, which is the type of content Russian legal streaming platforms have relied on for more than a year. However, these platforms also carry some Western content, at least until current licenses expire, which means that content will be off-limits too, for as long as that lasts.

Pirate sites can offer unlicensed movies from Western countries with no issues, as long as they censor them to remove LGBT references, to a standard acceptable by the state. Good luck with that.

However, since some Hollywood movies have been making it through to Russian cinemas via unauthorized routes, the pirate sites may not be able to offer those movies on their sites either.

Compliance with these rules could have a serious effect on pirate site libraries but that may not be the largest obstacle to getting sites on board.

Russia Likes to Regulate and Maintain Control

One of MinTsifry’s current responsibilities is to ensure that IT companies in Russia register for official state accreditation following a decree issued in September 2023.

“State accreditation of organizations is carried out by the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media,” the documents read. “State accreditation of organizations is carried out in order to provide them with measures of state support.”

To qualify for accreditation, IT companies must provide information on their activities and any products under development, but the full list of requirements goes on and on. That raises the question of what standards pirate platforms would have to meet before being unblocked and what any regulation would look like moving forward, to ensure they meet the content requirements of the state, as agreed.

In summary, this appears to be another scheme that will ultimately come to nothing. Compliance with a government program that offers to unblock sites in exchange for a decimation of content libraries could never prevail when sites currently offer whatever they like and have measures in place to constantly undermine blocking.


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