Music labels sue Russia social network site vKontakte over copyright breach
Record labels say social network site vKontakte is storing music uploaded by users and that it won't strike licensing deals with rightsholders
Three major labels are suing Russian social network vKontakte, claiming that the company has deliberately fostered "large scale" music piracy on its service.
Sony Music Russia, Universal Music Russia and Warner Music UK have filed separate lawsuits in the St Petersburg & Leningradsky Region Arbitration Court, working with local industry body NFMI and global organisation the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), on the cases.
The labels say that vKontakte, which has 143 million registered users globally, including 88 million in Russia, is storing a large catalogue of music uploaded by its users, and has refused to strike licensing deals with the rightsholders.
"VK's music service, unlike others in Russia, is an unlicensed file-sharing service that is designed for copyright infringement on a large scale," IFPI chief executive Frances Moore said.
"We have repeatedly highlighted this problem over a long period of time. We have encouraged VK to cease its infringements and negotiate with record companies to become a licensed service. To date, the company has taken no meaningful steps to tackle the problem, so today legal proceedings are being commenced."
The IFPI said the widespread availability of downloadable music on vKontakte was harming licensed digital music services in Russia, including local players Yandex and Trava, and global services iTunes and Deezer.
The IFPI's most recent figures show Russian recorded music revenues of 2.2 billion roubles (HK$483 million) in 2013, putting it outside the top 20 countries in the body's global rankings.
vKontakte declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying it had not yet received the claims filed by the labels.
vKontakte has been a thorn in the side of the music industry for some time. In November 2011, the US industry body, the RIAA, said the site was a "notorious market" for piracy that was "specifically designed to enable members to upload music and video files, hundreds of thousands of which contain unlicensed copyright works".
The lawsuits are not the first time vKontakte has been taken to court for facilitating copyright infringement.
In February 2012, the company lost a case brought by Russian music firms SBA Publishing and SBA Production, with the verdict upheld by the Russian appeals court in May that year. A few months later, vKontakte was fined in another copyright infringement case before being refused leave to appeal in November 2012.
In December 2013, founder Pavel Durov said vKontakte was willing to take down music in response to requests from labels. "If some music companies wish their content to be deleted from VK, we, as always, are willing to comply with their wish," he told technology website TechCrunch.
"On the other hand, we are also ready to seek mutually beneficial ways to monetise their content. This year we managed to find such a solution for video content and we are optimistic about the audio section of VK as well."
In March this year, reports suggested vKontakte was preparing to introduce "content identification, which will be used to monitor and promptly delete published content protected by copyright". These plans have not dissuaded the major labels from taking legal action.
The lawsuits come at a sensitive time for vKontakte. Its founder resigned last week, citing pressure from the site's Kremlin-linked owners.