Site blocking is viewed by entertainment companies as a key weapon in the piracy wars but since workarounds are easily available, its efficacy remains suspect. However, if entertainment companies have their way, amendments to Russian law will outlaw the promotion and discussion of block circumvention techniques.
This week following further intense discussions on how to bring Internet piracy under control, rights holders submitted new proposals for amendments to local copyright law.
Supported by communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, one of the key aims of the working group is to bring an end to the game of whac-a-mole caused by the country’s site blocking regime.
Ending the proxy wars
Like other countries, once pirate sites are blocked by local ISPs, proxies, mirrors and clones of those sites reappear elsewhere, rendering the blockades ineffective. This means that copyright holders have to head back to court to obtain a new blocking order if they are to keep up with the pirates.
As is already loosely the case in the UK, rightsholders with interests in Russia want mirror and proxy sites to be classified as extensions of the original blocked site and given the same illegal standing. This would mean they could be quickly blocked without need for a new trial.
Currently the courts require an individual process for each site, a position highlighted recently when ISPs were ordered to permanently block huge torrent site RuTracker but several sites appeared online which effectively circumvented the blockade.
“The Working Group proposes to simplify the blocking procedures in respect of mirrors of sites that have already been recognized by the court as illegal resources,” National Federation of the Music Industry (Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI) chief Leonid Agronov explains.
Circumventing blockades? You can’t talk about that
While the proposed measures against mirrors, clones and reverse proxy sites are not unexpected, demands being made by anti-piracy group Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPO) really take things to the next level.
Just as sites can take measures to avoid being blocked, users can circumvent blocks with a variety of tools including VPNs, TOR and other proxies. People learn about these techniques online but if AZAPO has its way – and that looks likely – telling people how to circumvent web-blocking measures will become an illegal act.
In a document penned by AZAPO, approved by telecoms watchdog Rozkomnadzor, and seen by Gazeta.ru, the anti-piracy group says that banning discussion of workarounds will enhance the country’s blocking regime.
“The introduction of [a system of fines] for those who promote methods for bypassing Internet blockades will enhance the effectiveness of blocking prohibited Internet resources,” the group writes.
At this stage the proposals suggest fines ranging from around $70 for “entrepreneurial individuals” right up to $14,500 for those operating within a legal entity but it’s not yet clear how these fines will be managed or enforced.
While discussion of circumvention could soon be off-limits, there’s no intention of banning circumvention tools outright. Noting that they have legitimate uses, Rozkomnadzor says it simply wants to draw a line in the sand over the way they’re promoted online.
“These technical software tools have a wide range of useful applications. But advertising these as a way to bypass website blocks should not be a legitimate action,” a spokesperson said.
Not surprisingly, representatives from the Internet industry see things somewhat differently. Karen Ghazaryan, principal analyst at the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, told Gazeta that tightening of the law will only lead to further dissemination of information detailing how to bypass blockades.
Indeed, there would be little the authorities could do about advice pages appearing outside the country, unless they wanted to enter into the biggest game of whac-a-mole ever seen.
Crucially, clamping down on discussion is unlikely to stimulate the market for legal content consumption among consumers, Ghazaryan says.
Presented this week, the draft proposals will now be sent to the Ministry of Communications for subsequent discussion in the State Duma.
March 19, 2016