Blackout: why Russian internet sites are going dark over anti-piracy laws
Дата публикации: 5 Августа 2013
Alexander Shubin is on fire. He’s standing in front of a colossal monument dedicated to the 1905 Russian revolution. It’s an appropriate place to be given that events that year sparked a wave of strikes across Russia and he’s talking about an impending boycott of cinemas throughout August. It’s not the cinemas he’s against per se, but the films they screen.
Although a history professor by day, the
Beyond the strike, organisers are exhorting netizens to replace their avatars with black squares and to refrain from buying any copyrighted content for the whole of August. Despite the low turnout at the rally, where
The Pirate Party of Russia are taking their cue from Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, WordPress and more than 100,000 other websites which switched off or blacked out their pages last year to protest against SOPA and PIPA, two
As a result, a number of internet companies have voiced their concerns but chosen not to participate in tomorrow’s strike, most notably Yandex and Russian Wikipedia. «We don’t believe in these kinds of activities," says Vladimir Isaev, a spokesman from Yandex. «We think the most constructive path is to collaborate and impact on the way the law will be applied and how the authorities will execute it.»
This means that sites such as Wikipedia, which host millions of hyperlinks, are vulnerable to being blocked. Anastasia Lvova, a member of Wikimedia Russia, a branch of the
Websites that fail to comply with court orders risk having their IP address blocked. Such measures are considered highly flawed within the internet industry because numerous, unrelated websites occupy the same IP address. «Of course fighting piracy is important but not when legal internet companies are in danger," says Kazaryan. «Blocking, specifically IP blocking, is simply evil.»
For now, the law covers film and television, targeting the hosts of illegal content rather than users of pirated material. But it is expected to widen its ambit to include music and possibly images later this year. «Unfortunately, internet piracy has now reached very serious levels," said Robert Schlegel, deputy chairman of the Duma Committee for Information Policy, Information Technology and Communication on 14 June. «According to various evaluations, it causes losses of up to 60 billion roubles a year. Unfortunately,
The speed with which the bill was passed by the Duma and ratified by President Vladimir Putin — three weeks — points to other forces at play. Both Kazaryan and Nossik cite a meeting in May between Putin and representatives of the film industry, after which the law was made a top priority. This also meant that the bill’s architects failed to consult any stakeholders. «The proponents of the law absolutely refused to talk to anyone in drafting the law," says Nossik. «No Yandex, no Mail.ru. They made a point: we are not interested in your opinion." The RAEC even prepared their own draft version of the law based on talks with Vkontakte, Yandex and others in the industry, but it was shrugged off. «That’s in the style lately of our legislative branch," says Kazaryan.
Last November, the government launched a blacklist law, handing power to the authorities to block content deemed harmful to children or that promoted suicide or drug use. Although the law’s detractors argued it would be used to silence political opponents, the reality has been markedly different. The vast majority of websites that have been censored — more than 95%, according to RuBlackList, an internet watchdog set up by members of the Pirate Party of Russia — are victims of IP address blocking technologies.
The remainder have been blocked for carrying information on drug use or suicide. The most
What the passage of the
Critics of the two laws maintain that, even if they are not strictly enforced, they create an unfavourable climate for the internet industry. «At this point, I don’t think we can have another Yandex," says Kazaryan. «There’s so much competition on the markets and a young entrepreneur will see what Russia can offer and what other countries can offer. With these regulations, why stay here when you can go to Europe or the US?«Yet even those opposed to the law agree that something must be done to curb the online piracy that’s rampant in Russia. In December, the Office of the US Trade Representative published its third Notorious Markets list, an inventory of countries that infringe intellectual property rights both off and online. The report describes Russia as a «hotbed of piracy», singling out websites such as Vkontakte, the second most visited site in Russia, according to online analytics firm Alexa.com. Vkontakte, often dubbed Russia’s Facebook, is infamous for being biggest deposit of pirated video and music content in the country. Also listed is Rutracker, a BitTorrent site that’s currently the 16th most popular site in Russia.
But just like the opponents of SOPA and PIPA, those fighting Russia’s
According to research by the RAEC and the Public Opinion Foundation, 64% of Russian internet users don’t even know if the content they watch online is illegal or not. However,