vKontakte Responds to US Notorious Pirate Market Allegations

Despite its work with rightsholders, this week the United States Trade Representative described Russian social networking giant vKontakte as one of the world's most notorious pirate markets. Speaking with TorrentFreak, VK says it will continue its work to proactively license all the content available on its platform.

vkEvery year the United States Trade Representative calls on foreign countries to take action against a broad range of websites which are allegedly involved in copyright infringement. Perhaps understandably, The Pirate Bay is one of the most obvious platforms to appear in the USTR’s review but there are others that don’t fit the same profile.

One of those is Russian social networking giant vKontakte (VK). Like all platforms with millions of users contributing content on a daily basis, VK has to deal with allegations of copyright infringement. Traditionally, the most vocal critics have hailed from the music industry but in recent times VK has made its peace with several distributors via licensing deals.

But despite these efforts, VK is apparently still falling short of the standards set by the United States government. In its yearly “Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets” report published this week, the United States Trade Representative laid out the case against VK.

“Nominated again this year, VK is one of the most popular sites in the world and continues to operate as an extremely popular social networking site in Russia and neighboring countries. VK reportedly facilitates the distribution of copyright-infringing files,” the USTR wrote.

Noting the commercial and cultural value of social networking platforms that go about their business without infringing rightsholders’ copyrights, the USTR said that VK’s recent steps to tackle piracy were “encouraging”.

VK has reached deals with major labels, taken steps taken to limit third-party applications dedicated to downloading infringing content, and experimented with fingerprinting technology, the USTR said. Even the RIAA said it was happy with VK, having taken the social network off its list in October.

Nevertheless, the mere fact that VK is on the USTR list again this cycle indicates that rightsholders outside the music industry are still complaining about the site. In its report, the USTR appeared to confirm it.

“Despite these positive signals, VK reportedly continues to be a hub of infringing activity and continues to be listed pending the institutionalization of appropriate measures to promote respect on its platform for IPR of all right holders, not just those with whom it has contracts, that are comparable to those measures used by other social media sites,” the USTR said.

Given that during the summer vKontakte felt it was already time for it to be removed from the United States’ blacklist, TorrentFreak caught up with the social network to gauge its reaction to this week’s apparent snub from the USTR.

“VKontakte continues its proactive work on licensing all audio and video content available on the social network,” a VK spokesperson said.

“In 2016, the Company signed an agreement with the world’s leading international music rights holders, including Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, The Orchard, Merlin Network and Believe Digital, among others. The music section of VK’s mobile app for iOS has been available to users since August 2016, after a two-year absence.”

Addressing the USTR’s claims over other contentious content still present on the platform, VK said that more progress would be made during 2017.

“Next year, the Company will continue its focus on signing up the remaining rights holders not covered by the previous agreements,” the company said.

The measured tone from VK shows an unexpected level of patience, particularly after being mentioned in the same breath as The Pirate Bay yet again and despite significant efforts to appease rightsholders. Will it have done enough by this time next year? Only time will tell.

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