Old habits die hard: The music pirating debate in Russia

Source: PhotoXPress

Source: PhotoXPress

Every developed country has gone through the difficult process of adopting new Internet anti-pirating laws in the last 15 year—for example, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States. Now it’s Russia’s turn.

Now it’s time for the second and expanded version of anti-pirating laws in Russia, which will contain rules and regulations for sharing and downloading all types of digital media, including software, literary work and music.

A new wave of tug-of-war is on its way in mass media. So what about Russian musicians’ advantages and disadvantages regarding new anti-pirating rules, Internet file sharing and downloading?

Music pirating in Russia has come a long way in the past 30 years. It started after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the new and wild free-market economy emerged. In the minds of Russian people, music pirates are the makers and sellers of counterfeited cassette tapes, VHS tapes, DVDs and audio CDs.

Flea markets packed with sellers of counterfeited CDs and cassettes spontaneously formed in many cities in Russia in the 1990s. In Moscow, people still remember the famous Gorbushka music and video flea market near the Bagrationovskaya metro, where counterfeited and custom-made music and video discs and cassettes were sold by underground profiteers out of the trunks of their cars. 


Gorbushka. Into the Forest, 1987-1999. Source: YouTube

When we talk about music pirates in Russia, we mean an underground industry that produces, distributes and sales counterfeited music CDs and DVDs—millions of copies of counterfeited CDs and DVDs, including all types of music from all over the world, with an emphasis on Western and Russian pop music.

Once in a while, a report on TV shows a police bust of a secret plant where counterfeited CDs and DVDs were made, or reports about how a legitimate CD factory by day was turned into a criminal venture for the production of counterfeited discs by night.

Now we are dealing with laws that address a new type of situation, where music pirates are invisible in cyberspace and have no secret plants in shady suburbs. This is why many musicians and music critics in Russia don’t see music sharing and torrent websites as pirating or criminal. Some musicians actually use torrent sites as valuable promotional tools, because there are millions of visitors to these sites daily.

However, there is another group of musicians from an older generation, whose habits and views formed during the pre-Internet era. They compare the music recording process to a bakery that makes pies: If you want a pie, you need to pay for it. You can’t just enter a bakery and grab pies for free. As well, when you buy a pie and take a couple of bites of it, you can’t share it with millions of people.

Moscow-based influential music critic Artem Troitsky is a supporter of free Internet music sharing. He has voiced his opinion numerous times for the abolishment of existing, “cave man” copyright laws, considering them obsolete in the 21st century. In one of his recent appearances on the popular Echo of Moscow FM talk-radio show, he expressed his opinion on Internet file-sharing and downloading.

“Who is getting all the money? Not musicians. They are getting just a very small percentage. Not actors, film directors, performers, or inventors. All the money goes to the rights owners, who are a giant companies obtaining all these rights and later inflating their values, and so it goes.

So they can fly private helicopters to and from work, so the rest of the billons of the population should pay for their luxury lifestyles. I am actually a pirate in this sense. If we have a strong Pirate Party, I will join it,” said Troitsky.

Andrei Makarevich is a famous rock musician in Russia. His band, Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), has enjoyed popularity since the late 1970s. Makarevich is a supporter of current anti-pirating Internet laws.

In the popular weekly magazine Afisha (August 2013 issue), he expressed his views and concerns about Internet music pirates and free music sharing in Russia. Here are some of his quotes: 

About free music downloads on the Internet:

“Why is no one outraged that you have to pay for Internet access? I will explain: It’s because all of those loud voices for ‘free music on the Internet’ are orchestrated by the people who are getting good money for web traffic.”

About a special license for noncommercial usage of music:

“Considering our vices, your album, which cost you €150,000 [or $202,500] to record and took two years of your life, will be selling until the first results of the ‘noncommercial usage license’ appear on the Internet.”

About the state of the recording industry in Russia today:

“Any type of industry needs money to function. Money left the music business because musicians lost the opportunity to get paid for their recordings, compared to how it was 15 years ago.” 

A public initiative against anti-pirating law collected 100,000 signatures from verified Russian citizens, whose goal is the abolishment of this law, as well as a public discussion and consideration of all types of opinions, including average Internet users.

In a last-minute development, a few adjustments and compromises were made to the expanded anti-pirating laws, reflecting the concerns of big Internet companies such as Yandex (the Russian version of Yahoo). Now, rights holders can file a court case for intellectual property rights violation only after requesting that a file-sharing or torrent site remove illegal content, proving that they hold exclusive rights to this content. Also, a rights owner must prove that content was removed from the site after their request.

Meanwhile, the thousands of signatures on the public initiative against anti-pirating laws were ignored.

For more than a decade of high-speed Internet access in Russia, all types of music was totally free for sharing and download. Now times are changing. Nonetheless, as Mick Jagger sang: “old habits die hard,” if ever.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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