Russia Moves To Legalize Online Media, Software Piracy To Get Around Sanctions


Russia is loosening its intellectual property laws to get around international sanctions, according to multiple reports.

TorrentFreak, a tech blog focused on peer-to-peer file sharing and the BitTorrent system, as well as copyright infringement and other digital issues, reported this week that the Russian parliament was considering legislation that would cancel liability to purchase intellectual property from countries that sanctioned Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, effectively legalizing piracy.

TorrentFreak cited a document put forth by the Russian Ministry of Economic Development called the “Priority Action Plan for Ensuring the Development of the Russian Economy in the Conditions of External Sanctions Pressure.” The document contains suggestions for the Russian government to proceed in the face of crippling sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. and its Western allies. An item listed as point 6.7.3, concerning how to deal with companies that have revoked software licenses in Russia, states as a possible measure:

Cancellation of liability for the use of software (SW) unlicensed in the Russian Federation, owned by a copyright holder from countries that have supported the sanctions.

Under current Russian law, TorrentFreak reported, software unlicensed in Russia is illegal to use, but the Ministry’s proposal would cancel both civil and criminal liability for software for which there are no Russian alternatives.

Multiple Russian news outlets reported last week that Russia was considering such a move in order to get around Western sanctions. A Russian state-owned news website called TASS reported on March 5 that the Ministry of Economic Development had been considering lifting international intellectual property restrictions in the face of sanctions. The Ministry said (translated):

The possibility of lifting restrictions on the use of intellectual property contained in certain goods, the supply of which to Russia is limited, is being considered. This will smooth out the impact on the market of breaks in supply chains, as well as the shortage of goods and services that arose due to new sanctions by Western countries.

Software originating in Russia would not be affected by the proposals, the Ministry claimed. They would specifically target companies that had not fulfilled “contractual and other obligations” to Russia. The Ministry also said that the proposed measures would foster continued access to technologies that had been lost by Western companies suspending operations.

Previously, another Russian news site, Gazeta, tweeted on March 3 that Dmitry Ionin, a member of the Russian parliament, suggested unblocking RuTracker, the Russian-based BitTorrent file sharing site, in order to give Russian citizens access to popular Hollywood films, after major film studios Disney, Warner Bros, and Sony stopped doing business with the country.

News of the move comes after a number of digital media and entertainment companies have suspended operations in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The Daily Wire previously reported that TikTok and Netflix suspended operations in Russia on March 6 in response to the invasion. RT America, the English-language TV network of Russian state-sponsored news outlet RT, laid off most of its staff and ceased production on March 3 after it was dropped by DirecTV, one of its two largest broadcast distributors. The European Union sanctioned its European broadcasts as well, along with fellow state-sponsored outlet Sputnik News. A bevy of other companies, ranging from Visa and Mastercard, to Goldman Sachs, to McDonald’s, have all taken action and suspended operations in Russia as well.

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