Yandex Refuses to Remove Pirate Content: Blocking Imminent, Despite Appeal (Updated)

The video portal of Russian search giant Yandex will be blocked today on the orders of the Moscow City Court after the company refused to remove links to pirated content. Yandex says the order is unlawful and will launch an appeal but the local telecoms watchdog is already warning of potential over-blocking that could affect all of Yandex's services.

A dramatic situation is developing around billion dollar Internet company Yandex and several major Russian broadcasters.

Gazprom-Media and others claim that Yandex isn’t doing enough to keep ‘pirate’ content out of its search results. After reaching a brick wall with the search company, the broadcasters filed a copyright infringement complaint with the Moscow City Court, the entity responsible for handling ISP blocking requests.

Late last week, the Court handed down a decision compelling Yandex to remove links to pirated TV shows belonging to Gazprom-Media outlets including TNT, TV-3, 2×2, and Super. The Court gave Yandex until the end of today to remove the content or find itself blocked throughout Russia. It’s now clear that Yandex will not comply.

According to a statement from the company, Yandex believes that the law is being misinterpreted. While under current legislation pirate content must be removed from sites hosting it, the removal of links to such content on search engines falls outside its scope.

“In accordance with the Federal Law On Information, Information Technologies, and Information Protection, the mechanics are as follows: pirated content should be blocked by site owners and on the so-called mirrors of these sites,” Yandex says.

“We consider the claims against us to be unreasonable and not in accordance with the law and we will appeal the decision of the Moscow City Court.”

A Yandex spokesperson told Interfax that the company works in “full compliance” with the law and is open to finding a cooperative solution.

“We will work with market participants to find a solution within the existing legal framework,” Yandex said.

In the midst of this serious situation, Yandex insists that it stands for an “honest Internet” in which legal content is made available and rightsholders earn their rightful share from it. Now, however, the action by the TV companies and the Court has undermined that.

“In response to the TV channels’ complaint, the Moscow City Court has passed rulings that are fundamentally contrary to its own previous practice on this issue. Worse still, they do not solve the problem of unauthorized content, since resources with such content will be available in other search systems, social networks and so on,” Yandex says.

But despite Yandex filing an appeal against the Court’s decision, there appears to be no escape from it being wiped from the Russian Internet in a matter of hours. Telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor says that it is obliged to act on the instructions of the Court and will instruct ISPs around the country to disabled access to Yandex.

“Roskomnadzor is required to comply with the court’s decision, which introduced preliminary provisional [blocking] measures against Yandex’s resource, regardless of the company’s appeal against this decision,” a spokesperson said.

But while executing a potentially devastating block on the one hand, Roscomnadzor is also offering to help mediate a peaceful solution to this growing dispute.

“We are ready to assist in finding points of interaction between companies,” Deputy Head of Roskomnadzor Vadim Subbotin told Interfax.

“I hope that in the pre-trial procedure, Yandex will take steps to resolve this conflict before the blockade, I very much hope that this will be done in cooperation with the rights holders,” he said.

Absent some last-minute miracle, it seems Yandex is doomed to preliminary blocking measures sometime today. While these usually last for an initial 15 days, the big question is how they will be carried out.

It’s unclear if a precise element of the service can or will be targeted (i.e Yandex.ru/video/ and/or Yandex.video) or whether Roscomnadzor will go down the Telegram route and block everything.

Ominously, Rosomnadzor is already warning that it doesn’t know what effect the blocks will have on Yandex’s other services.

Update: Fearing a complete block of its entire service, Yandex has complied with the order of the Moscow City Court. The company’s statement can be found below (translated from Russian)

Today, August 30, 2018, the deadline for the execution of instructions, which Roscomnadzor sent to Yandex on the basis of the Moscow City Court’s rulings, expires. In the instructions we are required to remove from yandex.ru “illegally posted information” – TV shows, the rights to which belong to the TV channels of the group “Gazprom-Media”.

We continue to believe that the requirements are not justified and do not correspond to current legislation and practice of its application. We will challenge them in court.

In the absence of measures on our part, there is a risk that Roscomnadzor will apply a block to Yandex.Video. Blocking Yandex.Video would lead to inaccessibility of all yandex.ru, since this service is located at https://yandex.ru/video/, and most providers can block traffic only by domain name – in the case of Yandex. Video is yandex.ru.

In order to minimize the risk of blocking, because of which Yandex users would suffer, we have decided to remove from search all links to pages with contentious works.

In fact, the requirements presented to us are impracticable. Yandex does not post content on the network and, therefore, can not delete it. In addition, Yandex does not have the ability to determine the existence of rights to content from a particular site.

Accordingly, Yandex can not separate controversial content from legal content. Therefore, among the deleted links, there may be links to resources where the content is placed by the rightholder. As a result, users will have lost the opportunity to find legal content on Yandex, and the resources of Gazprom-Media, it is possible, have lost some of their traffic.

Moreover, the claims made do not solve the problem of piracy. Illegal content can still be easily found with the help of other search engines, social networks and media hosting. Pirate sites that host illegal content are still available.

A good solution to the piracy problem must satisfy two principles: transparency and balance. We ourselves are copyright holders and we will work with other rights holders, regulators and other industry players to create a system in which both these principles will be observed.

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