Saturday 22 January 2011

Russia Prosecuting Online Infringement. For the WTO?

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation provides for those convicted of copyright infringement to forfeit up to 18 months of their wages, among other possible punishments including jail time or work-relief.  (Art. 146.) 

Rumor has it that though Russia has these laws on her books, their enforcement has been less ideal.  According to an AFP story on Yahoo! News, Russia is working to change that.  The proposed motive: entry into the WTO.

The Recent Enforcement

Basic story-line, young man uploads music tracks to a social networking site without permission from the copyright owner.  Other users download the songs.  In this case, the Russian music tracks uploaded by the young man were downloaded over 200,000 times by other users.  The young man was caught and prosecution charges filed.

High-profile raids to confiscate infringing goods have also increased in the move to step-up enforcement.

The WTO Relationship

According to the AFP story, Russia is increasing its copyright enforcement in order to finally join the WTO, a process it began in 1993.  The article states, “Russia's inability to implement any meaningful form of copyright protection has been one of the main issues raised by the United States during the latest rounds of two sides' World Trade Organization negotiations.”

Some other research sheds some doubt on this reasoning.  Russian WTO negotiations with IP-promoting Western governments have been going well recently.  The EU backed Russia for WTO admittance late last year and negotiations with the US have been progressing with the support of President Obama.  (See here, here and here.)  And while there is some discussion of intellectual property enforcement being a problem, the major barriers remaining are more likely tariffs.

This is not to say that increased enforcement will not help Russia in its bid for the WTO, but merely to suggest that it is not quite as an important factor as the AFP story suggests.  At the very least, such enforcement should help get Russia removed from the Priority Watchlist in the infamous Special 301 Report (pdf).

1 comment:

Ben Challis said...

Thanks for the post Aurelia. It may well be that Russia has an eye on the 'prize' of WTO membership, but it seems that the action against the individual was sought by a record label after the Russian social networking Vkontakte was hel not to be responsible for copyrighted materials uploaded by users of its service by a Russian court. The Nikitin record company claimed the illegal downloading had cost them 108,000 roubles in lost sales.

The IFPI's recently published Digital Music Report calls on governments around the world to do more to fight music piracy - but clearly the labels will take direct action where they have to - A court in Finland has ordered the operators of a file-sharing hub to pay over $1 million in damages to copyright holders, and imposed suspended custodial sentences in an action brought by the IFPI, the international group that represents the major record labels. The unnamed 35-year-old man and 21-year-old woman operated a Direct Connect hub called Sarah's Secret Chamber, which counted 1,600 users and some 50 terabytes of shared files.

In the Russian case, reports that a Russian lweyer, Andrei Zelenin, said that it was still unclear how private use of copyright material was defined on the internet. But he added that it was up to the record company to prove that the offender placed the material online in the hope of profiting from it in some way saying “If the user posts material which is familiar to his friends and relatives than there is nothing illegal about it,” Zelenin said. “At least, that’s how the court would see it.”

IFPI Digital Music Report