Wednesday 1 February 2012, 12:15 | By

Russian Facebook clone liable for copyright infringement

Digital Legal

vKontakte

A Russian social networking company has been found liable for copyright infringement over the music element to its service, after a lawsuit pursued by Russian music companies SBA Publishing and SBA Production.

vKontakte is very similar to Facebook, down to its design, colour scheme and many of the social networking tools it offers (indeed, some might call it a straight Facebook rip off), and is big news in Russia and neighbouring countries, where it boasts 110 million registered customers and 33 million users daily.

The site has come under increased criticism from both local and international music companies for allegedly facilitating and encouraging the sharing, streaming and downloading of unlicensed music files over its platform. According to local media reports, vKontakte countered that it had no control over the actions of its customers, that it warned users against copyright infringement, and that it had offered to hand over the personal details of users who uploaded unlicensed music.

But the commercial courts in St Petersburg sided with the content owners, saying vKontakte hadn’t done enough to stop its platform being used for copyright infringement, and that it must therefore accept liability (so, contributory infringement, basically). The web firm was ordered to pay 210,000 Roubles (about £4400) in relation to the specific infringement considered in this lawsuit. Other rights owners are likewise already suing vKontakte in relation to other alleged infringements.

Welcoming the ruling, the boss of the record industry’s global trade body the IFPI, Frances Moore, told CMU: “This is a very important ruling for Russia. It shows that sites like vKontakte cannot build a business on making music available without licences from content owners. Such services are directly liable for the unlicensed music they make available. They cannot avoid liability by shifting responsibility on to their users”.

She added that: “Russia is a market with the potential to develop a thriving legitimate music market, but this prospect is currently being undermined by unlicensed services such as vKontakte. Millions of unlicensed songs are freely available through vKontakte, competing unfairly with licensed services, and this must stop”.

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