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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Danger of Downloading

The wisdom of our State Duma deputies is a well-known attribute — second only to their selfish patriotism. Apparently, it was their sense of national pride that moved them to pass in two readings amendments to the Civil Code regarding copyright violations. International trade organizations and a host of Western companies concerned about Russians' widespread abuse of copyrights laws had been pushing the Kremlin and the Duma for years to strengthen its legislation.

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According to the legislative bill, any unlawful or unsanctioned copying of text, music or pictures from the Internet is subject to criminal prosecution of up to six years in prison.

In reality, though, it is almost impossible for the average computer user to not violate some copyright law every time he is on the Internet. For example, if you accidentally right click your mouse on some useless picture while browsing the web, you are a criminal. And this is the weakness of the new legislative bill — virtually every Internet surfer is guilty a priori. If the proposed amendments become law, the state will have the luxury of jailing any citizen it wants at any moment, and they would have every legal justification for doing so.

In addition to surfers, Internet providers would also be liable. Since they are obligated to spy on the Internet activities of their customers day and night, if even a single user posts pirated material on the network the provider could have problems with the law. The only safe path for the provider to take is to be as vigilant as possible, informing the authorities on even the slightest possible copyright violation. This could mean that thousands of web sites and blogs would be wiped out.

But please don't think that Duma deputies are inhumane. They have included two mitigating circumstances in the bill that could help Internet users evade a prison sentence. First, you can claim that the alleged copyright violation was caused by "necessary" circumstances. The only problem is that "necessary" is not clearly defined. Imagine court proceedings in which the accused testifies, "My grandmother was suffering from depression and wanted to take her own life. After I downloaded and played her favorite music for her, she decided to live a little longer." The jury members break into tears and find the defendant innocent.

Second, a person can evade prosecution if he can prove that he is a comedian. The bill allows for free use of other people's intellectual property if it is being used as a parody. Now that's funny, isn't it?

And for all of the people who rely on the Internet for automatic translations from English to Russian, the legislation has tried to create a loophole for your free use of these programs in accordance with World Trade Organization rules.

It appears that WTO membership is a key motivation behind this legislations. For the sake of this prize, lawmakers are willing to sacrifice anything, from citizens' rights to common sense.

At the same time, there could be an added bonus for our security siloviki. They also see plenty of opportunities to increase their surveillance of Russians' Internet activities under the pretext of complying with this new copyright law, of course. As everyone knows, Russia is a free, democratic country, and therefore nobody is thrown in prison because of his political views. But I have a sneaking suspicion that only the Kremlin's political foes will be the ones who are caught violating this law.

The only hurdle left for this bill to become law is for it to pass the third reading in the Duma. Usually, the third reading is only for eliminating typos. In this case, you could say the entire legislation is one enormous typographical error.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.