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Universal and Warner have scored a significant legal ruling against Russian site vKontakte (VK), following an 18-month battle in the courts.
VK, the second largest social network in Europe, has become known as ‘Russia’s Facebook’.
Unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, however, the majority of its 88m Russian users are understood to have used the site to illegally share copyrighted material.
In fact, VK is now recognised as holding the biggest library of illegal online music in the world – even bigger than The Pirate Bay.
The major labels brought copyright infringement charges against VK in the Russian courts in April 2014.
Sony Music Entertainment settled with the platform in July – an agreement believed to be contingent on VK’s promise to begin monetising its content.
That left WMG and UMG fighting in the courts.
The best result for both parties, MBW understands, would have been a damages order – forcing VK to cough up compensation for the mass piracy it has enabled since launching in 2006.
“This is a very important decision for the russian music market and for music creators in russia.”
Frances Moore, IFPI
The duo didn’t quite earn that ruling, but they came close: the Saint Petersburg & Leningradsky Region Arbitration Court ruled on Monday that VK will now have to legally deploy blocking technology to stop copyright-infringing uploads of the two majors’ catalogue.
MBW also understands that VK will also have to remove all existing infringing Warner and Universal tracks from its service.
The decision also means that Universal and Warner avoided what would have been a far more disappointing ruling – for VK to merely remove the 23 infringing tracks on which their lawsuit was based.
The judge issued an oral decision yesterday (September 28) and the full judgments will be handed down in due course.
IFPI Chief Executive Officer Frances Moore welcomed the judgment: “This is a very important and positive decision for the Russian music market and for music creators in Russia.
“VK’s infringing music service has been a huge obstacle to the development of a licensed business in Russia, making available hundreds of thousands of copyright infringing tracks to more than 70 million daily users.
“Now, the Russian court has ordered VK to use technology to stop infringements. This is good news for rights holders in Russia.
“We now look to VK to implement the court’s decision and stop these ongoing infringements.”
VK’s user base means that on a worldwide basis, it’s over double the size of Spotify.
Yet according to IFPI data, Russia contributed – in total – just US $72.8m to the recorded music industry last year, across digital, physical and public performance.
That means Russia is generating less cash from legal recorded music than the likes of Poland, Denmark and Switzerland
This from a country with a population of 144m people.
In May, Russia extended a tough anti-piracy law to include multimedia content – covering music, e-books and software.
In theory, it means that the Russian High Court can order ISPs and website hosting companies to permanently block websites that repeatedly infringe copyright.
Read: Can Russia’s anti-piracy law revive the global music business?Music Business Worldwide