Russia isn’t normally the first international location from which we expect positive news on copyright protection, so when it comes we’ll take it in almost any form.
The positive in this instance is that the news involves VKontakte, the country’s largest social network and one that has come under substantial scrutiny from rights holders in other countries for its lax approach to preventing copyright infringement.
The negative is that the site is taking only the slightest steps towards rehabilitating its reputation, removing just one option that iPad and iPhone owners can use to access unlicensed content for free. The streaming function on the site allows any audio uploaded by users, including music that should be protected by copyright law, to be accessed across any device on which VKontakte is available.
Those Apple devices are now eliminated from that list, but it still leaves Android, Windows Phone, and any other computing device from which Russian citizens can log in to their main social network. That’s a lot of places they can still support pirated content, and not the most convincing move if VKontakte is trying to get in the good books of foreign rights holders.
The case itself is a microcosm of the wider piracy picture in Russia, where nods have been made to stricter copyright protection by the government but piracy remains a prominent activity.
As we reported late last year, the country made it onto the MPAA’s list of the world’s most notorious markets in terms of copyright infringement, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance has Russia blacklisted for similar reasons.
Vkontakte plays a large part in the country’s ongoing status as a rogue nation when it comes to piracy, providing a mainstream platform that presents content for free, without repercussions . If Facebook did the same thing in the U.S. it would be unthinkable, and we could only imagine the swift legal action that would bring a site of even that size to take swift action. To find a silver lining, though, we can at least say that VKontakte – and Russia as a whole – is slowly starting to move in the right direction.
Interestingly enough, the real motivation to become a legal player in a market that currently relies on piracy for its music and entertainment consumption, could lie just a fewborders to the west. In Scandinavia, the popularity of Spotify and other streaming services has coincided with a dramatic drop in piracy rates. Although it is early days for streaming, that success does seem to be slowly resonating in other markets around the world, pushing piracy to the sidelines in the wake of legal services that provide free and near-free access to unlimited music.
Now, with Spotify eyeing the Russian market to the point of an eleventh hour decision to cancel its planned launch early this year, other services may see the potential to profit, even where piracy rules.
Spotify’s hesitance seems to be based on concerns for Russia’s economic stability and other regional concerns, but VKontakte already has stakes in that game and will play whether or not it looks to streaming music as a source of revenue.
Rumors abound that the company, owned by Mail Ru Group, has been in negotiations with major music labels in the U.S., which points to a plan rooted in more legitimate content distribution.
So even though the news is only lukewarm for the moment, the potential for legitimate streaming services to rush in and wash away piracy in one of the world’s most notorious markets for unlicensed content is much more encouraging.