Russia’s forced licensing plan for ‘enemy’ content ‘legalizes piracy’ *TorrentFreak

Since February 24, 2022, Russian troops have wreaked death and destruction on Ukraine. There are no obvious signs to suggest that the conflict will end soon.

Part of the first response from Ukraine’s allies was to impose sanctions on Russia, weakening the country’s ability and will to wage war. Companies from many sectors have suspended or terminated their activities in Russia, including major players in the entertainment industry.

As a result, new US-owned films dried up, leaving the entire Russian film industry in crisis. Some theaters have started showing pirated films downloaded from torrent sites, but the move has been criticized by local film groups who have been saddened by a return to the ‘dark days’ of unlicensed entertainment of 30 years ago. years.

The Intellectual Property Crisis in Russia

While Russia continues to trade with certain countries, those that have imposed sanctions (“enemy” or “hostile” countries, according to Russia) are the main suppliers of entertainment media, software and other types of intellectual property. . Sony, Universal, and Warner, for example, aren’t releasing new movies or music, but existing contracts are honored, meaning older content is still licensed and legally available.

So what happens when license agreements run out and, for a number of reasons, foreign companies are unwilling or unable to continue doing business in Russia?

Legal proposals from the first weeks of the invasion provided that software owned by copyright holders from countries supporting the sanctions could be legally used without a license, provided there was no local alternative. This was widely misinterpreted in the media as a license from the Russian government to hack everything, but it wasn’t.

Hacking is illegal in Russia and no law has been passed to change this. However, with cinemas and entertainment distribution companies in other sectors under immense pressure, the government clearly feels it needs to do Something. Asking companies what they need would have been a good start, but it doesn’t seem like they were consulted at all.

Russia’s “Special Licensing Operation”

The Kremlin’s solution to the country’s content crisis is already underway. The plan is to expand the laws that currently allow the use of inventions and industrial designs, in case of state defense and security emergencies, without obtaining any authorization from the rights holders – this known as “compulsory licenses”.

In early March, Russia released a list of hostile countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, EU members, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and many others, stating that their patent and industrial design owners will not be entitled to compensation should their rights be infringed.

According to local media, the Kremlin is currently working to expand compulsory licensing to encompass “enemy” entertainment products, including copyrighted movies, music and similar media. These licenses would come into play if existing licenses were terminated, with rightsholders’ Russian licensees and Russian rights management groups able to seek them in court.

Music and video companies unimpressed

The National Federation of Music Industry (NFMI), which represents Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music in Russia, is urging authorities to reconsider their compulsory licensing plans. the NFMI says moves to weaken intellectual property protections ’cause concern’, noting courts will favor compulsory license applicants if copyright owner doesn’t have ‘good reasons’ to deny license regular.

Those “good reasons” could possibly include a reference to sanctions or fear of breaching sanctions, but that might not end particularly well for rights holders either. The Kremlin believes that compliance with the sanctions should be punishable as a crime, with up to ten years in prison for violators. Given this impossible situation, it is not surprising that rights holders are alarmed.

In a letter to several government departments, seen by Kommersantthe NFMI describes compulsory licensing as a “disproportionate measure” that could lead to “mirror measures” against Russian music abroad, excluding streaming services from app stores and increased piracy.

Local service Yandex.Music told the publication that it wants to establish long-term relationships with foreign partners and that the government’s plan runs counter to that.

“The compulsory licensing initiative carries risks for these partnerships and, therefore, for the interests of Russian users. The project needs to be discussed with industry,” a spokesperson said.

The suggestion that the music industry is not consulted is disconcerting, especially since most changes to copyright law in the US and EU are driven by business needs, not in spite of them. The only solace here is that the movie and TV show companies are completely aligned with their music counterparts.

Compulsory Licenses “Legalize Piracy”

The Internet Video Association, which represents Russia’s major video services, also sent strong objections to several ministries.

Describing compulsory licensing schemes as a threat to legal online video services and their users, the video industry group says foreign devices and platforms, such as iOS, Android and smart TV companies, could even retaliate by suspending Russian video services. This doesn’t seem outrageous, given the association’s overall assessment.

In their view, the implementation of the plan would effectively lead to the legalization of piracy in Russia. For rights holders, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

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