Russia ‘Humanizes’ Criminal Copyright Law, ‘Large Scale’ Piracy Cut By 25%

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Criminal copyright infringement offenses prosecuted under Russia's Criminal Code are expected to plummet by a quarter, thanks to a new law signed by President Putin this week. The amendments aim to "liberalize and humanize" Russian legislation in the area of copyright and related rights, by drastically increasing the threshold for infringement to be considered 'large scale'.

rus-vpn-sSome believe that all laws amount to restrictions on freedom, while laws that claim to grant freedom merely give back what shouldn’t have been taken in the first place.

Yet, even those freedom-returning laws, for which all shall be grateful, seem to be a dwindling minority these days.

Often overshadowed by increasingly complex legislation mandating or prohibiting this behavior or that, freedom isn’t what it used to be. Especially online, where monitoring systems gather pace to ensure future compliance. It’s still relative, however.

Russia “Humanizes” Penalties for Criminal Copyright Infringement

After passing a minimum of 50 anti-democratic laws to ‘safeguard’ democracy, regardless of the impact on citizens’ freedoms and their human rights, Russia’s record over the past 15 years speaks for itself. That’s useful since speech itself faces considerable challenges under Putin’s watch.

Those who refer to the ̶i̶̶n̶̶v̶̶a̶̶s̶̶i̶̶o̶̶n̶̶/̶w̶̶a̶̶r̶̶/a̶t̶t̶a̶c̶k̶ ̶o̶n̶ U̶̶k̶̶r̶̶a̶̶i̶̶n̶̶e̶̶ ‘Special Military Operation’ in unflattering terms, for example, face criminal prosecution and upon conviction, up to 15 years in prison.

Yet, in January 2024, a bill submitted to the State Duma by the Russian government carried an entirely different tone. The aim of the bill, the government said, was to “liberalize and humanize” criminal legislation in respect of copyright and related rights, among other things.

With an eye on the precarious socio-economic climate in Russia, including the rate of inflation and similar factors, those who drafted the bill also considered law enforcement data. The extent of recorded crime and sentences handed down in copyright and similar cases, presented an opportunity to significantly reduce the criminalization of citizens for copyright infringement offenses.

Article 146 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation

The bill submitted to the State Duma proposed amendments to Parts 2 and 3 of Article 146, Violation of Copyright and Neighboring Rights.

Under then-current legislation, Part 2 described the following as an offense:

‘Illegal use of objects of copyright or neighboring rights, as well as the acquisition, storage or carriage of counterfeited copies of works or phonograms, for the purpose of sale carried out on a large scale’

Upon conviction, the penalty options were as follows:

• A fine of up to 200K rubles or an amount against earnings for a period up to 18 months
• Obligatory labor for a term of up to four hundred and eighty hours, or
• Corrective labor for a term of up to two years, or
• Compulsory labor for a term of up to two years, or
• Deprivation of liberty for the same term.

** Average monthly wage currently ~74,000 rubles (~US$842.00)

Should the violations feature aggravating factors – committed as part of a conspiracy, carried out on an especially large scale, or through abuse of an official position – punishments increase significantly:

• Compulsory labor for a term of up to six years and a fine of up to 500K rubles, or
• A fine in an amount against earnings for a period of up to three years

Two Simple Amendments

In respect of copyright and related rights, the bill proposed just two amendments. In Part 2 of Article 146, the term ‘large scale’ was applicable when pirated copies of copyrighted works, or the value of the rights to copyrighted works, exceeded 100,000 rubles. The bill proposed to increase the threshold for criminal liability by 500%, from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles.

In Part 3, the term ‘especially large scale’ applied when pirated copies of copyrighted works, or the value of the rights to copyrighted works, exceeded one million rubles. The bill contained a proposal to double the criminal liability threshold to two million rubles.

Bill Becomes Law, Immediately Reduces Crime By ~26%

Adopted by the State Duma on May 28, 2024, and approved by the Federation Council on June 5, amendments to the Criminal Code were signed into law by President Putin this Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Slashing criminal copyright infringementputin-sign-law

Lawmakers believe that by raising the qualifying thresholds for “large scale” and “especially large scale” copyright infringement, it will be possible to decriminalize around 26% of all crimes previously committed under Article 146.

The greatest effect should be felt under Part 3 where the authorities believe that around 40% of criminal copyright infringement offenses will be decriminalized under the new law.

Who benefits?

The big questions, if anyone dares to ask them, concern the winners and losers under this new policy. Will infringers see this as an opportunity to continue, safe in the knowledge that by moderating their former crimes, their freedom will remain intact? Or will the new thresholds be interpreted as targets, thereby offering up to double the amount of potential spoils?

Whether rightsholders will be asked to share their opinions at some point is unclear. Following the exodus of Western companies and much of their copyrighted content, due to the invasion of Ukraine, locally produced content became more significant. That seemed like an opportunity for locals to do more business.

This potential for growth now faces the likelihood that law enforcement will be even less interested in investigating infringement than before. Perhaps the most important question is whether the non-prosecution of Peter will limit Paul’s ability to improve his own socio-economic status through legitimate means. He could still file a civil suit but, for those with limited resources, the expense is often prohibitive.

So, who actually benefits other than those previously labeled ‘large scale’ infringers? Less work for the police and legal system may be seen as a plus, but alleviating prison overcrowding has already found its own solution, so that can be ruled out.

At the time of writing, 500,000 rubles converts to ~US$5,700. Average monthly wage in Russia is currently ~74,000 rubles (~US$842)

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