1,700 Websites In Russia Go Dark In A SOPA-Style Protest

Popular websites stop their services for a day to highlight the possible effects of a new anti-piracy law

Over 1,700 Russian websites had gone dark on Thursday, in a protest against a new anti-piracy law that enables Roskomnadzor (the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications) to ‘blacklist’ Internet resources before the issue of a court order.

The law, widely known as the ‘Russian SOPA’, came into force on Thursday. Freedom of speech campaigners are worried it could be used for political censorship, while digital companies say it will slow down the development of Internet services in the country.

During the protest campaign, participants replaced their homepages with a short warning message and a link to a petition on a government website. This petition has already collected over 76,000 signatures. However, it needs at least 100,000 to be considered by the parliament.

Websites in revolt

In 2012, changes to the Act for Information gave Roskomnadzor the powers to take offline websites that were hosting information about drugs, self-harm and child abuse. Civil rights activists had been protesting against the changes, claiming they restricted freedom of speech and would lead to further Internet censorship.

Russian internet © Pavel Ignatov Shutterstock 2012Now, the law has been extended to include intellectual property, such as films or TV shows (but interestingly, not music). Under the new rules, copyright holders can contact the website and demand for illegal content to be removed, or request a court order and complain to Roskomnadzor. The website is then required to block the access to files within 3 days, and keep them inaccessible until the court decides on the case.

If the website owners refuse to comply with the order, Roskomnadzor will order ISPs to block the whole site.

According to Russia Today, on the day the law came into force, movie distribution company Cinema Without Borders attempted to sue vKontakte, Russia’s largest social network, for breaching its copyright. The lawsuit didn’t go ahead due to the lack of supporting documents, but it goes to show that copyright holders are jumping at the opportunity to use the new rules to their advantage.

On Thursday, music resource Zaycev.net, online encyclopaedia Lurkmore.to, and around 1,700 other websites went down to show possible effects of the law.

“Today, we live in an online reality where every user became an information middleman and any page can be shut down for posting a link on the pirated content,” read a statement from Mail.ru, a popular email provider.

Meanwhile Yandex, the search engine that successfully competes with Google in Russia, said that the law “is directed against the logic of the Internet”.

Despite this, the country’s largest websites – Yandex, Rambler, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki – ignored the protest campaign, along with Google, Livejournal, Wikipedia and other US-owned properties.

As a response to the ‘Russian SOPA’, the unofficial Russian branch of the Pirate Party has launched a “Black August” campaign, urging its members and supporters to stop paying for any kind of copyrighted content for a month.

What do you know about IT in Russia? Take our quiz!