A decade ago, we discussed how the pressure brought against Russia to more greatly enforce copyright laws was a mistake. A mistake mostly because of how Russia would choose to enforce those laws, namely by applying them only against critics of the state or undesirables, whether actual infringement was occurring or not. While Russia’s misuse of copyright laws was utterly predictable, that isn’t really the point of my referencing it. My actual point is that in 2010 Russia decided that enforcing copyright was something it was willing to ramp up.
Which is why it may be a bit jarring, if unsurprising, to see that Russia is considering simply legalizing software piracy as the world decides it doesn’t want to do business with a homicidal, kleptocratic regime.
With sanctions against Russia starting to bite, the Kremlin is mulling ways to keep businesses and the government running. The latest is a creative twist on state asset seizures, only instead of the government taking over an oil refinery, for example, Russia is considering legalizing software piracy.
Russian law already allows for the government to authorize—“without consent of the patent holder”—the use of any intellectual property “in case of emergency related to ensuring the defense and security of the state.” The government hasn’t taken that step yet, but it may soon, according to a report from Russian business newspaper Kommersant, spotted and translated by Kyle Mitchell, an attorney who specializes in technology law. It’s yet another sign of a Cyber Curtain that’s increasingly separating Russia from the West.
Now, this move does make logical sense if you put yourself in the seat of someone in Russian government. That country needs to keep operating and, to do so, it needs or wants to keep using the modern technology produced in large part by the West. Were I Russia, and were I a kleptocrat hell bent on enforcing my will no matter the cost, this move makes sense. You don’t want to sell me your products? I’ll just pirate them instead. I’m already a bad guy on a level not seen in nearly 100 years, so what’s a little copyright infringement on top of that?
But here again we see the pointlessness of trying to push the villains of the world to beef up copyright enforcement. First Russia simply used that as an excuse to go after its own internal enemies. Then it simply wiped the slate clean of its promises the moment it became advantageous to do so. So what was the point of any of this to being with?
This was all a show to begin with, but that doesn’t mean that Putin isn’t once again overplaying his hand. Everyone is assuming that Chinese IP will be exempted from this, as China has predictably been light-handed in its response to Russia’s invasion. But, then again, China’s eyes are on the global economy, of which Russia is becoming a smaller and smaller part, thanks to its own actions.
Plus, although China has been ramping up its criticism of US policies, the Communist Party is likely hesitant to undermine its lucrative stake in global trade. “Chinese companies have much more to lose than to gain by violating sanctions,” analysts at Gavekal Dragonomics said in a research report cited by The Wall Street Journal. “For most Chinese companies, Russia is just too small of a market for the business to be worth the risk of getting cut off from developed markets or being sanctioned itself.”
So, to be clear, this isn’t Techdirt lamenting the lack of copyright enforcement within Russian borders. Instead, this is us both pointing out the rank hypocrisy of the Russian regime and lamenting instead the calories wasted trying to push that hypocritical regime towards copyright enforcement in the first place.
More Law-Related Stories From Techdirt:
First Amendment Group Tells Appeals Court University Officials Shouldn’t Have Access To Qualified Immunity
How Tracking Someone’s Movements Can Make Them Look Guilty, Even When They’re Not
Appeals Court Smacks Down Unconstitutional Injunction Obtained By A Lawyer To Silence Someone Who Left A Negative Review