September 29, 2017
This article was originally published in IAM Weekly, and is reproduced with permission.
This article was prepared with the assistance of William Payne, a summer student in Gowling WLG's Moscow office.
On July 1, 2017 the new Law on Mirror Websites (Federal Law 156 FZ) was adopted by the State Duma. Article 1 of the new law amends the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Security (Federal Law 149 FZ). The new law obliges search engines such as Google or Yandex, on receiving a request from Roskomnadzor (the Russian Federal service for supervising all media content), to withhold information about the domain name of an infringing website and any references to mirror websites of permanently blocked websites.
The new law comes into force on October 1, 2017.
This is not the first time that legislation has been passed to combat online piracy. On August 1, 2013 the first anti-piracy law gave Russian authorities the power to block access to piracy sites that infringed on copyrights of films. This sparked outrage in the online community and more than 1,700 Russian websites went on strike as a result. The second anti-piracy law was introduced on May 1 2015 and updated the previous law by including many other types of copyright infringement such as music, videos and games. The second law also introduced the notion of permanently blocking websites (ie, if a website loses two cases for containing pirated content, it will be placed on a list of permanently blocked websites).
The success of these laws seems to have been limited, largely because the moment that a piracy website is taken down, a replica or ‘mirror’ website appears elsewhere. Permanently blocked websites such as RuTracker.org further resisted the law by publically teaching internet users how to bypass the website ‘blocks’. Factors such as these have seriously undermined the efficacy of these initial laws. It is therefore unsurprising that further action is being taken by the government to stop piracy.
The new law recognises mirror websites. A ‘mirror’ or copy website is defined in the new law as a website that is “confusingly similar” to a website that has been permanently blocked before and contains pirated content. The new law allows the Ministry of Communication and Mass Media to make a reasoned judgment to identify these copy websites without a lengthy court process. Search engines will be required to stop issuing information on the domain names and any indexes of the copy website following a certain procedure. This procedure is similar to the standard Roskomnadzor website-blocking procedure, apart from the fact that the blocking request is also sent to search engines.
The new law aims to eradicate online piracy by making it considerably more difficult for internet users to access piracy websites. It will also be more difficult for mirror websites to exist as the Ministry of Communication and Mass Media can identify and block them without the need of a court order.
Whether this new law will succeed in completely removing the online curse of piracy remains to be seen. Online pirates have been innovative in the past, using methods such as virtual private networks to bypass blocks or restricted websites. Therefore, other technical measures will likely come into play to bypass the law. Regardless, the Law on Mirror Websites will make it significantly more difficult for the average internet user to access pirated content and is therefore another huge step in the right direction of eliminating online piracy.
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