Some Context for the Russian Dissent

Several commentators have pointed to the unexpected public dissent by Russian President Medvedev from the G8′s recent statement on copyright and enforcement.  The statement read, in part:

With regard to the protection of intellectual property, in particular copyright, trademarks, trade secrets and patents, we recognize the need to have national laws and frameworks for improved enforcement. We are thus renewing our commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements.

To which Medvedev responded:

“The declaration reflects an absolutely conservative position that intellectual property rights should be protected according to the existing conventions,” said Medvedev. “No one questions that, but I have repeatedly stated that, unfortunately, those conventions were written 50 or almost 100 years ago, and they are unable to regulate the whole complex of relations between the copyright owner and users.”

Characteristically unafraid to ruffle his fellow leaders’ feathers, Medvedev continued “Unfortunately, this was not included in the declaration because, in my opinion, my colleagues have a more conservative opinion than is necessary at the moment. Or maybe they just don’t use the Internet and have little understanding of it.”

I don’t have any particular insight into Medvedev’s comments, but it’s not the first time he’s shown some pragmatism on these issues.  Although there has been an increase in Russian enforcement against Bittorent sites in the past couple years, the main factor shaping Russian political attitudes toward enforcement was the big enforcement push in 2006-2007, undertaken as part of a deal with the US to pave the way to Russian accession to the World Trade Organization.  This push set in motion some complicated domestic politics that both Medvedev and Putin chose to accommodate. From MPEE:

Debates about effectiveness also tend to obscure the other side of enforcement in Russia:its capture by politically connected actors. Rather than serving (or failing) all parts of the copyright sector equally, enforcement is a scarce resource that confers competitive advantages in the marketplace. Some of these advantages are relatively subtle, as when large firms enjoy more influence with police or prosecutors than small firms. One company’s protection, in such contexts, is often another’s exposure. But others are cruder and run the gamut from commissioned prosecutions and harassment of competitors to more elaborate forms of extortion and corporate raiding (reiderstvo). Such problems are by no means limited to IP rights in Russia, but the mix of corruptible institutions, near-universal legal jeopardy, and scarce actual enforcement creates fertile ground for them.

…..
The ramp up of investigations and raids during 2006–7 amplified these problems and produced a powerful reaction in the Russian business community. As a growing number of businesses were disrupted by police raids, software-licensing investigations, and other forms of pressure, IP enforcement began to be identified with police corruption and business takeovers rather than the protection of rights. Shakedowns were common in these contexts, and even under the best of circumstances, police raids could paralyze businesses for days before a case was cleared up or dropped. Pressure to turn in “adequate” statistics on enforcement led to spikes of activity during enforcement reporting periods, with licensed goods—according to enforcement sources—representing up to 30% of seizures.

By 2007, police overreach had become a regular focus of local and federal-level economic summits and soon produced a revised approach to enforcement. Now president, Dmitri Medvedev took the side of harassed business owners, stating, in December 2008, that businesses should not be “terrorized” by the police. In 2009, Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, claimed that most police inspections of businesses were commercially motivated and had “no obvious justification” (Firestone 2010; Beroev 2009). Pushback had become the government position: in early 2009, the Duma passed a new law limiting police inspections of businesses to once every three years.

Not surprisingly, rights-holder groups reacted very unfavorably to these developments, with the IIPA in particular describing the new restrictions as a retreat from the 2006 bilateral agreement with the United States. Recent government investigations of Microsoft and other leading international companies may be further evidence of a divergence of foreign IP interests from the perceived interests of the Russian business community. Although it is hard to attribute coordinated intent to the range of actors operating within this space, the Russian government appears increasingly comfortable with a strong and self-interested position on behalf of its business community. As in other contexts, enforcement policy needs to be seen as a product of this balance of forces.

 

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