Sites to Be Blocked in Russia, Even if They Remove Pirate Content

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Responding to copyright takedown requests is generally considered to be the best way for a user-generated content site to stay on the right side of the law. However, new copyright amendments being prepared by Russia's Ministry of Communications could see entire websites blocked by court order if experts believe their main aim is piracy.

russiaComplying with elements of the DMCA and its European equivalents is an important measure in the operations of many thousands of websites. Not being held liable for infringements carried out by users has allowed entrepreneurs to develop countless user-generated content projects.

For many rightsholders, however, the notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA and similar legislation are being abused by ‘pirate’ sites. While these sites take down content when asked thereby gaining protection, they are also accused of turning a blind eye to large-scale infringing content elsewhere on their indexes.

In Russia, rightsholders say they face similar problems, even though the country introduced tough anti-piracy legislation in 2013.

Following a legitimate complaint, current law allows for content to be blocked at the ISP level if site operators fail to respond to takedown requests in a timely manner. However, many sites – including popular torrent sites indexing huge amounts of infringing content – have been complying with the notices as required, thus avoiding punitive measures. The government now wants to close this loophole.

Amendments to copyright law being prepared by a working group at the Ministry of Communications foresee a regime in which sites can be blocked by court order, even if they comply with takedown notices.

“Unscrupulous illegal sites should be blocked entirely,” Ministry of Communications deputy Alexei Volin told Izvestia.

According to experts familiar with the discussions, rightsholders want the government to introduce the concept of a “malicious site”. However, the puzzle faced by the Ministry is the development of criteria which will enable it to classify sites into pirate and non-pirate categories.

One option is to classify a site as pirate when it violates copyright and distributes content for profit. Rightsholders say they want either element alone to be enough.

Other amendments under consideration would see site owners and hosting providers forced to restrict access not only to copyright-infringing content, but also to “information necessary to obtain it using the Internet,” a clear reference to torrents.

But according to Irina Levova, director at the Strategic Internet Projects Research Institute, this amendment goes too far.

“The wording in the law is incorrect,” Leva says. “Under it falls even ordinary hyperlinks, including those that are placed in search engines. We believe that this phrase should be abolished.”

But according to Leonid Agronov, general director of the National Federation of the Music Industry, hosting actual content or links to it amounts to the same problem.

“The business of a torrent tracker is not very different from the business of any site that hosts pirated content,” Agronov says. “They all offer access to content in exchange for viewing ads or paying for higher download speeds. For us, the rights holders, these sites are indistinguishable, regardless of their technical features.”

The amendments are set to be presented to the government on Friday.

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