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Search engine Yandex caves to Russia's federal censor in dispute over Internet piracy

Source: Meduza
Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Update: Hours before Roskomnadzor said it would act, Yandex complied with the orders from the Moscow City Court, removing from its video search results hyperlinks to pirated content identified by Gazprom Media. Spokespeople for Yandex told Meduza that the company still contests the court ruling and plans to file an appeal. In a press release, Yandex also warned that some of the hyperlinks removed from its search results may have redirected users to legal content, possibly reducing Gazprom Media's online traffic.

A promised reckoning

Russia’s federal censor could be hours away from blocking Yandex’s video service, following an August 24 verdict by the Moscow City Court ordering the website to remove all hyperlinks to pirated content from its search results. Earlier this month, several television stations filed lawsuits against Yandex, where links to pirated copies of their content often appear in the first search results. Vadim Subbotin, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor, says his agency will begin instructing Russian Internet service providers to block Yandex’s video search engine on the evening of August 30, if the company doesn't purge its search results of links to the pirated videos. He’s warned that he doesn’t know what effect this will have on Yandex’s other services.

Is Yandex going the way of Telegram?

The cases bear similarities (both companies dispute the demands made of them by the authorities), but Yandex is far bigger and more entrenched in Russia. Also, Yandex merely contests the application of Russian laws, not their inherent constitutionality, arguing that regulations against online piracy apply to the owners of sites that host or mirror pirated content, and can’t be enforced against Internet search engines. An official statement published by the company on August 29 says censoring Yandex’s search results will still leave the content “available on other search engines, social networks, and so on.” Yandex points out that it offers only legal audio and video content through its own dedicated services.

Why is this happening to Yandex now?

Gazprom Media (the holding company that owns the TV networks now suing Yandex) apparently has more pull than pop musician Viktoria Voronina or the Eksmo publishing company, both of which have filed past lawsuits against Yandex for sharing hyperlinks to pirated copies of their intellectual property. Previously, television stations have filed lawsuits broadly demanding the removal or censorship of online pirated content. What’s different about the new case is that it targets Yandex directly.

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