Illegal Downloading Could Become Punishable With Prison Time in Russia

If new regulations are enacted, private individuals could face up to five years in prison for downloading pirated content.

MOSCOW -- Responding to filmmakers’ longtime complaints, the Russian government is developing new regulations under which users of torrent tracking websites could be punished with imprisonment.

For the last few years, torrent tracking websites like Rutracker have been the largest source for illegitimate downloads of movies in Russia. Although technically rights holders can demand that copyrighted content be removed, the procedure is often complicated, and a huge amount of illegitimate content is uploaded and downloaded by users on a regular basis.

According to Alexander Akopov, head of TV series producer Amedia, the Russian film and TV industry’s annual losses from piracy amount to $2 billion. Punishments currently stipulated by the law for digital piracy seem to do little to prevent people from illegitimate exchange of copyrighted content.

However, the culture ministry is working on a set of new regulations that could drastically change the situation by introducing harsh punishments for regular users. Currently, the maximum punishment a private individual could face for distributing illegitimate content online is a fine of 5,000 rubles ($159). But if the new regulations are enacted, a private individual sharing pirated content could be sent to prison for two to five years.

Incidentally, the regulation wouldn’t necessarily hit the torrent tracking websites because, technically, they don’t provide file-sharing services, but just links to content hosted elsewhere.

Earlier this week, the Russian government proposed another scheme aimed at fighting digital piracy under which access to websites accused of copyright infringement could be blocked before a court decision. But rights holders said the scheme’s problem was that it didn’t take regular users into account.