The ongoing battle between internet providers and rights owners is taking a surprising turn, with the news that Russia is considering whether it can make ISPs liable for the copyright infringements of their customers.
Reports in the local media say that the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs is looking to bring in fresh laws that would make service providers responsible for illegal filesharing between those using their networks.
According to Vedomosti.ru, the government is undertaking a consultation on the issue, and will report back towards the end of this month. If it goes ahead, the laws that criminalize the network could hit the statute books later this year.
The ministry is trying to document the “spread of illegal content in the local networks of Internet service providers,” Seralinov Jannat of the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Gazeta.ru.
According to him, each provider runs local file-sharing networks with which they are trying to attract users. Seralinov promised that the criminal penalties for the distribution of pirated movies and pornography to minors will affect not only subscribers, but also ISPs, but did not say how it would work precisely.
As the piece points out, it is the local filesharing networks that many Russian ISPs run that are really under scrutiny — services that officials claim allow subscribers to freely pirate and share material. This is a slightly different argument from cases that have happened in countries all over the world — such as Germany, Australia and elsewhere — which have generally ruled that ISPs are not liable.
In general, those providers accused of assisting infringement have argued that they are merely dumb pipes that push data around without discrimination. But in some countries, such as the U.K., ISPs are being co-opted (against their will) into tracking and punishing those believed to be illegal filesharers.
Still, it’s a significant move for Moscow to be making: Russia is now Europe’s largest internet market, and is growing at a rapid clip — yet still one of the cliches is that it’s a haven for crime and IP infringement of all kinds. Yes, Russia has a high incidence of online crime, and is home to a large cohort of internet fraudsters, plus the fuzzy legality of services like AllofMP3.com, a music download store which caused great consternation because it operated under a very particular interpretation of Russian law that most copyright holders thought was actually illegal.
But this has been changing over the last few years, as the country tries to legitimize itself in the eyes of other nations and organizations like the WTO.
That means the reaction of internet providers will be interesting to watch: will they shut down the offending networks, or make a stand?