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Book publishing industry seeks web-block against Russian social network vKontakte

By | Published on Tuesday 23 February 2016


The global record industry’s litigation against Russian social media firm vKontakte had, at best, mixed results last year. Now the book industry is now pursuing an alternative legal action against the social media firm, which has – of course – been widely accused of turning a blind eye to rampant copyright infringement on its networks.

As previously reported, Universal Music and Warner Music sued vKontakte through the Arbitration Court Of St Petersburg, which last year ruled that the social media firm had a duty to do more to combat piracy on its networks, but then decided that the majors were not due damages over the alleged past infringement of their recordings. Though in a separate lawsuit pursued by two Russian record companies, damages were awarded.

Nevertheless, in both cases vKontakte insisted that it is already doing more to help copyright owners enforce their rights, to the extent that it reckoned it was already complying with the obligations put on the company by the Universal/Warner ruling.

Now an organisation representing a number of book publishers, called the Association For The Protection Of Copyright On The Internet – or AZAPO for short, which sounds more exciting – is pursuing its own legal action against the social network, and it is trying an alternative approach. It is taking action through the Moscow City Court and is pushing for a one of those trendy web-block injunctions that would force local internet service providers to block access to the social network on copyright infringement grounds.

The Moscow court is empowered to grant such injunctions, and AZAPO has secured web-blocks there before against more conventional piracy sites. Though targeting a social networking platform as popular vKontakte in this way is pretty much unprecedented.

At the heart of the case is a single book, Zahara Prilepina’s ‘Resident’. AZAPO seems to claim that while vKontakte has responded to some of its takedown requests in relation to unlicensed digital copies of this work, not all copies have been removed. This, says AZAPO Director General Maxim Ryabyko, according to Torrentfreak, confirms that the social media firm is “not taking proper protection measures”.

Asked why he was taking the matter to the Moscow City Court, rather than filing a copyright infringement lawsuit with the Arbitration Court Of St Petersburg, as the record industry did, Ryabyko said that the latter approach is a time-consuming and costly endeavour, and that copyright owners need a more efficient way of enforcing their rights.

If there was a credible risk of vKontakte being the subject of a web-block injunction, the company would have to speedily improve its relationships with the book, movie and music industries, many of which have, in the past, accused the social networking business of paying only lip service to its copyright obligations, while continuing to turn a blind eye to the rampant infringement it enables online.

Given that web-blocking on copyright grounds is now possible in Russia, you might wonder why other entertainment industry groups haven’t gone this route before. Though Russian newspaper Izvestia says that unnamed copyright owners it spoke to said the country’s telecoms regulator Roskomadzor urged them not to, arguing vKontakte was making moves to collaborate with rights owners.

If that’s true, AZAPO is breaking rank. Though Ryabyko did add that while it is true vKontakte has been negotiating with music and movie companies about legitimising the distribution of their content on its networks, no such talks have been initiated with book publishers. The desired outcome of the web-block application, then, may be such talks.

vKontakte itself is predictably critical of the legal action, while insisting that it has already had talks with Russia’s largest book distributors. AZAPO possibly wants more talks, and more talking about how vKontakte can help book publishers generate revenue online.