The first working day of the Business Program at SPIMF began with a discussion of the successes of copyright holders in the battle against media piracy, and of the new challenges posed by this irrepressible Internet phenomenon. Kommersant-Money correspondent Vladimir Borovoy followed the discussion, which focused on ways to combat the distribution of illegal content.
At the panel discussion, titled "Is the Golden Age of Piracy Over?", the Russian side was represented by well-known experts on the domestic situation: Alexander Akopov, president of Amedia; Alexey Volin, deputy minister of communications and mass media in the RF; Konstantin Zemchnkov, director of the Russian Antipiracy Association; and Sergey Semyonov, attorney for the Association of Film and TV Producers and the Russian Producers' Guild. The western experience in the battle was also conveyed by notable people, for example, Michael Robinson, vice-president of the Motion Picture Association of America and Trevor Albery, vice-president of Warner Bros. for antipiracy activities. The international guests did not share anything particularly new, reporting either things that were already known (for example, the draconian antipiracy laws in France and Germany, which have helped to significantly decrease consumption of contraband goods), or concepts which were not very specific, such as we need to bring judicial practice into compliance, then teach the population to respect copyrights - at least maybe to explain to teenagers, who download illegal content more than anybody, that stealing a digital copy of a new film is exactly the same as stealing a pair of sneakers from a shoe store. Judging from the generally peaceful mood of the western participants in the discussion, these radically prohibitive measures have knocked the least persistent of the pirates and contraband consumers out of the camp, and those that remain are being pressured by copyright holders with propaganda about the benefits of the contraband-free life. One specific suggestion they had was to think about which large group of individuals is suffering from the illegal downloading of films: the group includes only directors and producers, and maybe the carpenters who built their sets, and employees of cinemas that show the films. Besides this, there have been civil educational sessions with various Internet structures that pirates wouldn't be able to function without. These include companies that provide hosting services for sites with illegal content, or links to where this content is stored, advertising agencies and all other types of intermediaries who don't participate directly in piracy-related activity, but who support it indirectly. Somewhat on the back burner was the fact that the battle with illegal content has intensified at the same time that legitimate services for audio and video content are being actively developed (from iTunes and Google Play to V.O.D. services), so that for users it has been noticeably easier to switch from free, illegal products to paid, legal ones. But the western delegates admitted that their companies are still working with search engine sites, strongly requesting them to remove the addresses of contraband sites from their search results.
Our antipiracy activists are also fighting with the big search engines, but their attitude is considerably more bloodthirsty. Deputy minister Alexey Volin in his presentation managed to include a saying about kind words and a Colt revolver, urging the industry to acquire this Wild West accessory as soon as possible because words have been ineffective, and then he spoke about his hope that among the copyright holders there would appear a dedicated group of "polite people," who will pay warning visits to the most malevolent of the copyright violators. Sergey Selyanov, head of STV, did not use any combat rhetoric, but he mentioned torrents, and requested that they all be completely forbidden. Internet providers that don't feel like helping in the fight against piracy, he said, should be "re-educated." Against this backdrop, the relentless pirate-hater Alexander Akopov appeared very constrained: only once he called the search companies Yandex and Google the most important resources for pirates in Russia and in the world. He reported that his colleagues and he are eagerly awaiting the second edition of the antipiracy law, which will be noticeably stricter than the current one. But he cautioned that it wasn’t the end user who should be punished, but rather the business structures that are cashing in on piracy activities.
The participants in the panel discussion relayed the following information about the new law. Changes include the words "gross" and "repeat violation"; there will be a new category introduced - "unscrupulous sites." These are sites that, in theory, may have more than just a few of their pages blocked; they could be shut down instantly, without the possibility of resuming their work. Commenting on the draft law, Alexey Volin elaborated on the concept of "hitting the ones that are easiest to find." Just when everyone had decided that he was talking about the end user (who is truly not hard to find, most of the time), the deputy minister clarified that he was actually referring to the most well-known and visible of the pirate sites. The end user should be left alone, he said, because otherwise people would have a negative reaction toward actions taken by government authorities, and would sympathize with those crushed beneath the wheels of the state.
As in previous years, the biggest headaches for Russian copyright holders are still caused by the domestic social networks (Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki), which, despite Herculean efforts, remain a huge dumping ground for illegal content. Media companies acknowledge that there have been certain small achievements, for example Vkontakte now has its own advertising operator, the Platform company, which scrubs the network clean of contraband (by hand, slowly, but at least the process has begun), among other things. But neither Platform nor Odnoklassniki, which both belong to the holding company Mail.Ru Group, want to acquire as weaponry for their arsenal the Content ID marking system for downloadable content, which was specially developed by the company Web Control to address so-called ‘Russian realities.' In the opinion of Olga Valigurskaya, the general director of this software developer, the introduction of this system could practically end the downloading of pirated films and music onto network servers. And it seems that the social networks have even agreed to introduce it, but the process is dragging on - the deadline was originally set for March 2014; now people are talking about next year.
Stepping forward as a voice of opposition to the overall antipiracy mood was Anton Merkurov, vice-president of the Association of Internet Publishers. But he spoke so unconvincingly it seemed as though he had been asked to do this in order to show that the opponents of copyrights (“copylefters”) were basically trolls and demagogues. He reiterated old arguments, ones that were old even two years ago, about the inconveniences the average user is forced to suffer when searching for content, and he threatened that users would leave for the “dark side of the Internet.” The only sensible part of his speech was something nobody wanted to acknowledge or elaborate on: foreign copyright holders who refuse to sell this or that specific content in Russia, based on the belief that “the Internet over there is wild, and pirates are lurking around every corner,” end up nudging the end user toward the illegal service providers. With this in mind, the distributors of legal media might make more of an effort to convince their international partners to change their policies, but either there is too much resistance, or the process is just moving very slowly, and so the resulting vicious circle continues to turn, and only the pirates are profiting.
The panel discussion was able to end more or less on a high note: the legal counsel of the Association of Film and Television Producers, and of the Russian Producers’ Guild, Sergey Semyonov, informed the audience that literally within the past few days, amendments to Section Four of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, which specifically regulates matters concerning [authors’] rights, had come into effect. Now, not only will the end users of illegal content be accused of violating copyrights, but “digital intermediaries” as well, and from now on, site-hosting companies, Internet providers, and possibly even owners of search engines will bear the same liability as direct violators; in other words, “the general principles of civil legislation have expanded to cover the Internet.” Approximately one year from now, rights holders hope that there will be statistics showing that the new restrictive measures have, in fact, reduced the level of piracy.