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26 Feb, 2010 03:40

Russia’s top file sharing website under fire

Russian prosecutors have shut down Russia's most popular file sharing website for alleged violation of copyright laws. Still, despite looming legal charges, its owners resumed operations under a new address.

When users recently logged onto Russia's largest torrent tracker, all they found was an empty page. It has been shut down by its provider following orders from the police. The charge: helping to distribute pirated software.

Torrent tracking websites do not contain illegal materials, but enable their users to swap files with each other – often in breach of copyright.

Although other sites abroad have been sued, this is the first time one has been closed in Russia. The reaction throughout the web community has been outrage.

“This out-of-the-blue decision is proof of the incompetence of our police. What was done was utterly illegal – you have to have a decision from the court before you can just cut off a website,” said editor of Hacker magazine, Nikita Kislitsyn.

Further, more than a thousand users have formed their own protest movement.

“This is an alarm bell. Today it has happened to a torrent website, but tomorrow it could be anyone,” said Yury Romanov from the Community for Legal Exchange of Information.

However, one of Russia's leading film directors, Yury Grymov, has a different view.

“Piracy takes away ninety percent of our profits. It has destroyed cinema in this country and we can't finance the films we want as a result. It is high time the government did something about pirates,” Grymov said.

Despite the police action against them, the owners of torrents.ru have simply registered under a different domain name, taking their database and clients with them.

This means that the latest Hollywood releases can still be downloaded through a torrent at a moment's notice. RT asked surfers at a Moscow internet cafe if the closing has had an impact on their web use.

“The old site simply had a link to the new one. I have resumed downloading films,” one user said.

“I have heard about it, but so what? There are loads of other torrent websites. I don’t care,” said another person.

The proprietors of torrents.ru say they will fight to return their long-standing domain name. In the meantime, other torrent websites are in the dark over their future.

“In Russia, we have problems with all kinds of digital content. You just cannot buy everything in digital form. So, many people who can buy a DVD disk but prefer to use media players have to download torrents. They don’t even care if they are legal or not,” Andrey Mikhailyuk, editor-in-chief of Zhelezo magazine, told RT.

Robert Farish, Director-General of the internet strategy firm, the 'IDC Group', Moscow, believes that within a relatively short period of time the same content is going to be available for people who are prepared to look for it.

“My perspective on this is – it’s important for Russian authorities to be seen to be acting in coordination with their colleagues in other markets, to be seen to be committed in the area of protecting intellectual property, because it’s really important for the future of industries either…in IT, publishing or entertainment, where IP plays an important role,” Farish told RT.

Andrew Robinson, the head of the UK Pirate Party, emphasizes that it’s important to realize that there is difference between stealing and copying.

“When you steal something you take something away from somebody, when you copy something, you simply duplicate it. It’s nonsense to call this ‘stealing’,"Robertson said. “This particular tracker has been restarted on another web-address, I think, within about four hours of it being closed down. So, this is nothing but a minor inconvenience to the file-sharing community. It has not actually stopped anybody from sharing files for more than a few hours.”