For many years Russia has been viewed as a soft touch on the issue of copyright infringement.
Dozens, perhaps hundreds of allegedly infringing sites operate there with impunity, some due to aspects of Russian law and others simply because authorities have no interest in doing anything about them.
Of course, this situation is unacceptable to the United States where authorities and rightsholders regularly take the opportunity to complain about the poor levels of protection provided by the Russian authorities. Time and again Russia has given the impression that something might be done, but up to now progress has been slow.
However, yesterday came an announcement from United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk which suggests that for the U.S. things are moving more quickly towards a favorable situation.
Kirk said that the United States and Russian Federation have reached agreement on an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Action Plan aimed at improving copyright protection and enforcement online.
“Strong IPR protection and enforcement are vital to promoting innovation and creativity by securing the rights of innovators and the creative community, attracting high-technology investment, and fostering the jobs necessary for long-term sustainable growth,” the action plan reads.
If carried through, the plan could have serious implications in the file-sharing space.
According to the USTR, in addition to conducting enforcement actions against unauthorized camcording, agreement has been reached to “disrupt the functioning” of sites that “facilitate criminal copyright infringement.” In addition to disruption – whatever form that may take – Russia has reportedly agreed to take action against the creators and operators of sites through which copyright infringement is committed.
The plan also reveals an agreement on the thorny issue of takedowns. The removal of links to infringing content is a big deal at the moment, with Google being hit particularly hard by rightsholder and their agents. Russia has been criticized in the past for not doing enough on this front but according to the plan has agreed to “provide for takedown of infringing content.”
The USTR also reports that Russian authorities have agreed to conduct “meaningful consultations” with rights holders to take action against high-priority websites. In the short term the sites on that list will probably be the ones submitted to the USTR by the RIAA and MPAA for the “Notorious Markets” report. If that is indeed the case, expect discussions on BitTorrent giant RUTracker, cyberlocker RapidGator, and social networking site Vkontakte.
There are also dozens of public and private torrent sites, plus file-hosting services hosted in Russia at this very moment. Up to now they’ve had a very easy ride and only time will tell if that will change as a result of the agreement.
The plan also gives an idea of where the U.S. sees potential weakness in current Russian law that could hold back potential legal action. According to the USTR, Russian authorities have agreed to support “special legislation” to combat Internet piracy that will “establish a fair framework for liability of Internet service providers in appropriate cases of infringement of intellectual property rights over the
The vast majority of the report is targeted at larger entities that might be engaged in or connected to online piracy, but the USTR appears to have dangled a carrot that would enable Russian companies to target U.S. citizens in a limited way. The United States has agreed to discuss the possibility of allowing Russian rightsholders to use the upcoming “Copyright Alerts” system.