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The Court Battle Begins for vKontakte (VK.com) Against Russia Labels Sony, Warner and Universal

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The Court Battle Begins for vKontakte (VK.com) Against Russia Labels Sony, Warner and Universal

Postby sunnyd » Mon Aug 11, 2014 7:14 pm

We previously reported at the end of April about vKontakte (VK.com) agreeing to sign a piracy agreement with the Russian Telecoms, following lawsuits that were filed in early April by three major music companies. VK.com is formerly known as vKontakte, which is a highly popular social media site in Russia commonly referred to as the "Facebook" of Russia. The three separate lawsuits for alleged "large scale" music copyright infringements were filed by: Sony Music Russia, Universal Music Russia & Warner Music UK. The recording industry was seeking court orders to require VK to remove the infringing content from its service. The plaintiffs sought a court order which would require VK to implement "effective industry-standard measures, such as audio fingerprinting", to prevent unauthorized sharing of the library content and to prevent unauthorized uploading of the companies’ catalogues. The lawsuits included a claim for compensation of just over RUB 50 million (US $1.4 million) for the infringing content. According to a report by the BBC, after months of delays, today was the beginning of what appears to be a long court battle ahead for VK.

The case finally went before a judge today at the St. Petersburg and Leningrad region arbitration court, and although the music labels filed three separate cases originally, the court ruled that the case will be heard as one consolidated case, and not three.

A series of substantive hearings are set to begin on September 8th, and are expected to run into October.

NFMI and IFPI which are the local and global industry organizations working with the music labels, were represented by Frances Moore, IFPI chief executive, who stated that, "VK's music service, unlike others in Russia, is an unlicensed file-sharing service, designed for copyright infringement on a large scale," and he added, "We have repeatedly highlighted this problem over a long period of time. We have encouraged VK to cease its infringements and negotiate with record companies to become a licensed service. To date the company has taken no meaningful steps to tackle the problem."

As mentioned earlier, VK did sign a piracy agreement with the country’s telecoms regulator on April 30th, which was considered a "memorandum of understanding," in regard to how VK will deal with the distribution of unlicensed content on its sites. Up until then, VK had refused to sign the agreement. Several other Russian Internet sites had already signed the agreement. By signing that agreement, VK was committing to stepping up its takedown processes and implement audio fingerprinting technology which was mentioned in the lawsuits filed by the three record companies who sought the court order requiring them to do so.

Russia has been very active as of recent in passing new laws, including a strict anti-piracy law in August of last year which regulates online distribution of films and TV series in Russia, and then introducing two other bills which have since expanded that law to other types of content as well, including music, photos, books and software.

The RIAA placed VK on the US Trade Representative's list of notorious markets, where they have been for four years. The announcement of the lawsuits in April was not VK's first instance of trouble with copyright infringement legal issues. They were found guilty in November of 2012 in a lawsuit brought forward by Russian music companies SBA Publishing and SBA Production. They were fined again in October of 2012 for copyright infringement, and ordered to pay 550k roubles ($17.8k) to Russian music label SBA Gala Records, which is a licensed distributor of EMI Music’s international catalogue.

In October of 2013, vKontakte won a copyright lawsuit filed against them by music company Soyuz. The court ruled that the social networking site was not liable for its users that were uploading recordings owned by the music company without permission, and also noted that no vKontakte employees had been involved in the copyright infringement. At that time, the St. Petersburg court also stated that VK couldn’t be expected to monitor everything that was uploaded to its servers.

It’s quite likely that things for VK will drastically change following this court battle due to the lack of tolerance in Russia, especially since the site was issued several warnings previously. The music companies in Russia are pushing toward developing a thriving licensed music business. If successful, the advocates claim that consumers will have access to music through various regulated and licensed channels. Their plan is to move Russia closer to an open and more competitive music market.

It's reasonable to say that the future existence of VK as it operates today remains very questionable.




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