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Analysis & Opinion
23.05.11 One Right, Many Copies
By Svetlana Kononova

Russians are famous worldwide as a creative people who have produced a myriad of unique works throughout the country's history, from Leo Tolstoy’s 19th century masterpiece “War and Piece” to the Google Search engine, developed by Russian-born computer genius Sergey Brin. More than two million Russians now keep blogs on LiveJournal, acting as writers and producing one-of-a-kind content. But at the same time, Russia is notorious as a country that encourages piracy and does not protect intellectual property.

Russia may propose an initiative to regulate copyrights on the Internet, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of the most famous and reputable representatives of the Russian Internet community. “The Internet creates fantastic opportunities for the publication – and reproduction – of large volumes of information, and at the same time creates new challenges for regulating intellectual property rights,” Medvedev noted. “There should be some kind of practical outcome from our meeting. I wasn’t just trying to be witty when I said that I specifically raised this issue at the G8 summit. The other G8 leaders were less interested in it than I am, for whatever reason. I stated that it was time for us to try to create the foundations for a future legal framework in this area, for international regulation of copyright. Because the Geneva Convention and the Berne Convention are in the distant past,” the president said.

Medvedev noted that “unfortunately, the majority of the world’s most valuable works subject to copyright do not come from Russia – in terms of monetary value,” and suggested that accusations of piracy against Russia by the international community give a good reason to develop new approaches toward intellectual property rights protection.

Russia’s reputation as a haven for piracy is not unfounded. A recent report by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) found that the only sphere in Russia that has shown a significant decline in piracy rates (a 20 percent drop) during the past five years was business software. Most other industries – filmmaking, music, entertainment software, book publishing – still have very high piracy rates. The authors of the report estimated the value of pirated computer software in Russia in 2010 at $1.74 billion, and described the most popular Russian social network “VKontakte,” with more than 100 million registered members, as “one of the largest distributors of pirated music in the world.” They also pointed out that Internet piracy in Russia “continues to harm the market for academic and professional books.”

Last year, 4,365 criminal cases of intellectual property protection were brought to the courts in Russia, and 3,406 individuals were punished with fines amounting to approximately a billion rubles ($ 35.7 million), a survey found. “Currently there are three main kinds of piracy in Russia. The first is illegal copying of CDs and DVDs. The second is piracy on the Internet – it is still not regulated properly by the law. The third kind of piracy is a public performance of a work without the author’s permission and a license agreement,” said Marina Muradova, a spokesperson at the Russian Authors Society (RAS), the only state-accredited NGO that works in the field of copyrights management.

In 2009 RAS won a lawsuit against the Rostov-on-Don-based company Yug Art, which organized a concert of songs by Deep Purple without signing a license agreement. The authors of the songs received 450,000 rubles ($16,000) in compensation. “Concert organizers make good money. They know that they have to pay for a stage, lighting, special effects, supporting staff. But they often ‘forget’ to pay for intellectual property – music or the texts of songs,” Muradova said.

Anton Sergo, the head of the Internet & Law legal firm and the author of several books about the legal aspects of the Internet, believes that protection of intellectual property in court is still a rare practice in Russia. “Suing is not the done thing in Russia. It is expensive and may take a long time. But if the disagreement is fundamental or there are grounds to win a large compensation, people could initiate a trial,” he said. Vadim Kolosov, a lawyer and member of the UNESCO Chair on Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Rights in Russia, has a different opinion. “Certainly, the Russians’ attitude toward intellectual property is changing. More people are learning about copyrights and aim to protect the authors’ rights. The number of legal actions in the field of copyright protection is growing in Russia,” he said.

According to current Russian law, the minimal amount of compensation for every proven case of copyright violation is 10,000 rubles ($357), the maximum amount – five million rubles ($178,500). Sergo also noted that compensation for copyright violation is generally on the rise. “For example, if one Web site has stolen one hundred pictures from another other Web site, it gives legal grounds to ask for no less than 1 million rubles ($35,700) in compensation,” Sergo said. “However, from the financial point of view, in many cases it is more beneficial for the infringers to violate a copyright 1,000 times, lose one lawsuit and pay compensation once, than to pay remuneration to 1,000 authors. Many authors do not hire lawyers because the fees that lawyers who specialize in copyright charge may be higher than compensation for a non-mass infringement,” Kolosov added. “If your work of art was copied on the Internet without your permission, you should collect evidence of illegal use in the first instance. Then apply to lawyers who work in this field to send a cease-and-desist letter. In many cases, it is possible to settle the issue out of court, which saves time and money,” he advised.

Experts believe that Russia’s copyright legislation is good enough, and the problem is in its enforcement. “The law in Russia is not as bad as many tend to think. But it is quite often applied in the wrong way by courts and the police. Moreover, it is often misunderstood by non-specialists,” Kolosov said. Sergo agreed: “I don’t think the copyright law should be changed. It exists and it works. But it is necessary to change the social mentality, because legal nihilism is deeply-rooted in Russia.”
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