Crisis Looms as YouTube Faces Permanent Blocking by Russian ISPs


Both YouTube and Yandex’s video platforms are edging dangerously close to being permanently blocked by ISPs in Russia. The Moscow City Court has upheld a complaint from publisher Eksmo and has ordered the services to remove pirated audiobook content. However, anti-piracy group AZAPI says it is preparing other cases too and if they are successful, “we can insist on the eternal blocking of and YouTube in Russia.”

As the most popular video hosting platform on the Internet, YouTube is awash with both legal and unlicensed content. However, since the company is responsive to copyright complaints, it is largely protected by the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.

The system is far from perfect and is nowhere near comprehensive. False positives, abusive copyright claims and the sheer volume of uploads make it almost impossible to police the platform to a standard acceptable to everyone. The same can be said of the Internet has a whole but with automated and manual takedown tools, YouTube does what it can.

One copyright holder that isn’t happy with YouTube’s efforts is Russian publishing giant Eksmo and its anti-piracy partner AZAPI, the Association for the Protection of Copyright in the Internet. It says the YouTube system “does not always work” so has decided to step up its efforts to protects its clients’ rights.

As a result, Eksmo recently filed a court case against YouTube and the video platform of local search giant Yandex, claiming that the sites offer pirated audio copies of the sci-fi novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’ by the Chinese author Liu Cixin.

The December complaint was initially rejected due to lack of evidence but on appeal, the Moscow City Court has now ruled that YouTube and must remove the content or face having it blocked by local ISPs. According to a report by local news outlet Vedomosti, the content in question still exists on both platforms.

According to a statement from the Moscow City Court published by TASS on Monday, it has now taken preliminary measures against both sites.

“The court ordered and YouTube to remove the link to the Cixin audiobook. As a security measure, the court imposed a block on this material on both hosting sites,” the press service said.

The Court spokesperson had no comment on the potential for YouTube or to be permanently blocked in Russia but it appears that AZAPI has plans for just that.

“We are ready to go to court using other books. If the complaints are satisfied, we can insist on the eternal blocking of Yandex.Video and YouTube in Russia,” AZAPI chief Maxim Ryabyko informs Vedomosti.

AZAPI represents the interests of Russia’s biggest publishers so the possibility for additional complaints is substantial. What remains unclear is the standard to which YouTube is being held. If the site receives a valid copyright complaint against a specific URL, it usually removes the content in a timely manner. However, that doesn’t necessarily prevent the same content from being uploaded again. At least from AZAPI’s perspective, this appears to be a case of repeat infringement.

“There were situations even when, after making a court ruling, we continued to find controversial copies on this platform,” Ryabyko says.

From the limited comments available, AZAPI seems to be demanding a “takedown, staydown” arrangement in response to its complaints, something which goes beyond Google’s responsibilities under the DMCA.

Whether AZAPI’s threats are ultimately designed to bring YouTube to the negotiating table is unclear but having the site blocked in Russia seems like the nuclear option, particularly when YouTube offers a number of special tools that may help to prevent further infringement.

Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.

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