Last week the Russian parliament passed a new law against movie piracy on the Internet, which will take effect on August 1, 2013 if signed by the President. The new regulation allows copyright holders to file lawsuits against websites violating their intellectual property. The court will issue a warrant to block the website if the violating content is not removed within 24 hours.

In its current version, the law only applies to video content displayed over the Internet, but might be extended to other types of content.

Despite the seemingly benevolent intentions of Russian regulators, the new law has provoked an outburst of discontent among Internet companies. On June 14, a week after the first version of the bill was introduced, the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) published a long list of suggestions signed by such major players in Russian business technology as Google, Mail.Ru Group, Yandex, Rambler-Afisha-SUP, HeadHunter, and others.

However, none of the suggested corrections were taken into account in the final version of the law, which was passed on June 21.

From mediation to piracy

One of the controversial rules introduced by the new law relates to an “information mediator,” which is defined as “an entity that allows the publication of material or of information necessary for its retrieval by means of a data telecommunications network, or an entity allowing access to the material.”

According to the critics of the law, such a broadly worded formulation may imply that even a person posting a link to a page where video content is published illegally becomes an information mediator – not to mention actual search engines, which are information mediators par excellence.

The final version of the law specifies that an information mediator will also bear responsibility for intellectual property violations.

Moreover, the law states that the warrant to block violating content, which the court sends to the hosting provider, may contain only the IP address of the server where the content is hosted.

“This approach, which shows ignorance of the underlying technology, puts the very existence of Internet search engines in jeopardy,” said the Russian Internet giant Yandex in a corporate blog post. “It’s the same as closing down a highway permanently after a single accident has happened.”

A series of controversial laws

Other initiatives from Russian lawmakers to regulate the Internet have been disputed over the last few years. Many legal and industry experts have provided negative feedback regarding the 2011 amendments to the Federal Law on Personal Data, underlining formal defects and foreseeing a range of practical difficulties in its implementation.

Ironically, even as they added significant obstacles to online marketing and sales processes, these extremely strict amendments did nothing to prevent the development of client database trafficking in Moscow.

Last year, lawmakers adopted legislation on harmful content, with the stated intention of protecting children from online dangers ranging from pornography to “pro-suicide” and “pro-drugs” propaganda. In their content-blocking crusade, the Russian authorities also launched an online register of banned web content.

The new rules triggered Google’s YouTube to bring a lawsuit against the government over a video lesson on makeup application that the Russian regulator construed to be “a suicide instruction.”

Twitter, however, has shown more cooperativeness.

Other critics chided the register over its lack of transparency and inefficiency in pinning down elusive perpetrators that quickly resurface by changing their IP addresses. Politically motivated access-blocking, which was put on a fast track by Russia’s new heavy-handed legislation, has also been criticized.

Towards radical isolationism?

Russian lawmakers’ offensive could go even further. An MP from the ruling party United Russia, Sergey Zheleznyak, is currently preparing several bills that would ensure that all the personal information about Russian citizens and data from governmental entities be stored on servers located on Russian territory, the business daily Vedomosti reported last week. Zheleznyak hopes to get the bills passed this fall.

“I reckon that we must guarantee the digital sovereignty of our country,” he said, echoing the recent scandals with US government agencies attempting to control Internet data exchange across the globe.

Zheleznyak explained that his initiative is aimed at preventing foreign agencies from accessing such data.

However, the technical implementation of the law proposed by Zheleznyak seems unrealistic, since restraining Russian Internet users from providing their personal information to foreign web services would imply, in practical terms, the isolation of Russia from the World Wide Web. Moreover, such a bill would make it impossible to operate international e-commerce sites and payment systems in Russia, at least in their current forms.

Update Sept. 30, 2013

Two months after the anti-piracy law came into force, just three out of fifty six applications had led to blocking a website, suggesting that the fears expressed by the critics of the law were not fully justified.

  • RUSSIAN ONLINE VIDEO REPORT - East-West Digital News has conducted a in-depth research on Russia’s online video market in partnership with comScore, Ernst & Young, the Higher School of Economics, and more than 20 market players. The report is scheduled for release in October 2013. To receive a free copy, please contact us at report@ewdn.com.