The appearance of pirate sites and content in search results and similar online services is an ongoing issue for copyright holders. In an ideal world, all allegedly-infringing content would be removed, they argue.
However, given the nature of copyright infringement and licensing of official material, it is not always a straightforward matter to determine who has the necessary rights to display or distribute content. As a result, many online platforms rely on rightsholders to inform them that material infringes their rights and should be taken down.
Over in Russia, frustrated anti-piracy group AZAPI is taking a more fundamental approach.
AZAPI Files Complaint Alleging Abuses of Dominant Positions
The Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPI) is an anti-piracy outfit representing publishers in Russia. As a result, it often finds itself in disputes with pirate sites and increasingly, large web companies too. The most prominent are search giant Yandex and VKontakte owner Mail.ru, a pair of huge Internet companies that are regularly accused of not doing enough to prevent piracy.
This week AZAPI took the unusual step of reporting both to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) for alleged abuses of their market dominance. The complaint was reported by the EEC on Thursday with a brief outline of AZAPI’s allegations.
“The Eurasian Economic Commission has received statements from the Association of Rights Holders, Licensors and Licensees for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPI) about signs of violation of antimonopoly legislation in the actions of Yandex and Mail.ru,” the EEC statement reads.
“According to the statements, these companies, by abusing their dominant position, violated Article 76 of the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union on general competition rules.”
Article 76 reads as follows: Any actions (omission) of dominant economic entities (market participants) that result or may result in prevention, restriction or elimination of competition and/or infringement of interests of other persons shall be prohibited.
AZAPI’s Complaint is Based On Alleged Piracy-Facilitating Behavior
While the full complaints are yet to be made public, AZAPI chief Maxim Ryabyko says that Yandex is a “strategically important element” in the distribution of traffic to users and as such, forms an integral part of the infrastructure used to promote digital content. This dominant position depends on the “good faith” actions of a search engine to encourage fair competition but according to him, there are issues.
“The presence of pirated content is a constant incentive for the copyright holder to spend money on advertising in Yandex for book requests, since official sites almost never make their way to the first lines, yielding leadership to pirates and former pirates (partner sites that at one time gained popularity on pirated content),” he told CNews.
“That is, without implementing the mechanism for removing links from the search results everywhere, Yandex maintains artificial demand for its advertising services, that is, it benefits directly from the dominance of pirated content.”
Furthermore, Ryabyko says that some of Yandex’s dealings with pirate site operators undermine work to have their sites rendered less visible to Internet users. According to the AZAPI chief, Yandex allows the administrators of blocked pirate sites to set up the location of replacement mirror sites in their Yandex accounts, which means a seamless transition from a blocked domain to one that isn’t, as far as the user experience goes.
“To the market, Yandex displaying mirrors in search results in the same places actually nullifies all the efforts of copyright holders to block the site and block mirrors. That is, at the first stage, rightsholders are not given the opportunity to remove links without going to court. And at the stage after the judicial blocking, the efforts of copyright holders to combat pirated links in the injunction are nullified,” he explains.
The complaints against Mail.ru appear to relate to several of the company’s services including social network Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”), Music Mail and Video Mail. Previously, VKontakte (also Mail.ru owned) implemented a filtering system to assist copyright holders.
AZAPI would like this deployed across Mail.ru’s other services but instead, Mail.ru reportedly made its own fingerprinting system and advised AZAPI that it should use that or file takedown notices instead.
Responses From Yandex and Mail.ru
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Yandex and Mail.ru are rejecting the claims of AZAPI, albeit in different ways.
“We are sure that there are no grounds for such claims,” a Yandex spokesperson informed TASS. “As we have said more than once, search engines should not know or determine the legal status of content posted by third parties via links.”
In comments to RIA, a Mail.ru spokesperson dismissed AZAPI’s assertion that an abuse of power complaint to the EEC is the right way to move forward.
“At the moment, we have not received any notifications about such a statement. At the same time, the issue of relations with AZAPI obviously lies outside the scope of antimonopoly regulation, therefore, such an appeal seems strange to us.”
Meanwhile, two similar complaints against Internet companies are pending.
In August 2020, AZAPI filed a complaint with the European Commission against Google, alleging that its failure to remove piracy-enabling apps from Google Play creates barriers to entry for legal platforms. Then last month, AZAPI reported Yandex and Mail.ru to Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service for discriminating against publishers attempting to carry out anti-piracy enforcement.