Global record labels take Vkontakte into Russian court as music piracy continues

Three international music record labels have taken the offensive in another attempt to challenge online piracy in Russia, international industry association IFPI reported. Once again the target is Vkontakte (also known as VK.com), the former Soviet Union’s third most visited website and leading social network.

Sony Music Russia, Universal Music Russia and Warner Music UK filed three separate lawsuits last Thursday with the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitration Court, seeking a combined $1.4 million in damages from Vkontakte.

In addition to claiming damages, the labels insist that the popular social network stop displaying infringing copies of tracks by nine pop singers, both Russian and international.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the key coordinator of the actions, underscored in its press release that VK “operates a music service deliberately facilitating copyright piracy on a large scale.” Legal action had to be taken, IFPI maintained, “to protect the rights of record companies investing in Russia and help develop a thriving licensed music business.”

The National Federation of the Music Industry (NFMI), the record labels’ primary supporter inside Russia, also denounced “the unlicensed service of VKontakte, which is earning revenues from music without respecting the rights of those who created and produced it.”

IFPI pointed out that “the litigation comes after months of preparation, during which repeated attempts have been made to persuade VK to tackle its copyright infringements.”

This is not the first time the social network, which boasts some 143 million registered users worldwide, has been taken to court for inaction or outright encouragement of piracy. Gala Records, the first private record label in Russia, had a two-year history of legal clashes with VKontakte, finally emerging victorious in May 2013 after VK failed to persuade appellate judges to reverse a number of prior court orders.

Even as Russia was putting together its August 2013 anti-piracy law – focusing essentially on video content – VKontakte kept potentially litigious tracks on its website. Just over a month ahead of the adoption of the law the social network stated that “nobody can ban others from listening to something.”

Last July Pavel Durov, CEO and founder of VKontakte, made a move to mollify international concern over piracy by entering talks with the same three labels that have filed the most recent lawsuit. Moreover, the UCP fund, which acquired an important stake in VK in April 2013, was said to consider illegal hosting of content “a serious issue.”

However, VK’s efforts to adhere to copyright legislation have fallen far short of compliance in the eyes of copyright owners. In February 2014 the US Trade Representative’s annual report listing “notorious markets” for piracy condemned VK’s policy for a fourth year running.

This article first appeared in East-West Digital News, the international online resource on Russian digital industries