The Kremlin is using Russia's new anti-software-piracy laws to target dissident media outlets and shut them down. This is an eerie echo of the Soviet era, when black marketeering and other universal activities were used as the excuse for arresting dissidents and other inconvenient people.
The difference is that this time, the anti-piracy laws were enacted at the behest of the US trade representative, who made stringent patent and copyright enforcement a condition of the recent US-Russia free trade agreement, forcing Russia to take on board stricter laws than those in place in the US. This includes laws that would never pass Constitutional muster stateside, like a scheme for police licensing and inspection of CD and DVD presses. Imagine that: Russia reinstates state control over the press at the behest of the US government! The Framers of the Constitution would be very proud, I'm sure.
The thing is that everyone in Russia is an infringer, which means that everyone is guilty of breaking these strict new anti-piracy laws. That means that anyone can be arrested for being a pirate, so there's no need to gin up a law against dissent, political organizing, homosexuality, or looking cross-eyed at a cop.
It's true in the US, too. Everyone's an infringer. At every talk I give, I say, "Is there anyone in this room who isn't a copyright criminal?" No one ever puts up a hand — not at universities, law schools, technology conferences, or at motion picture studios.
Once everyone is a criminal, no one is free.
In the past 10 months, police in at least five Russian cities have raided the offices of media outlets, political parties and private advocacy groups and seized computers allegedly containing illegal software, paralyzing the work of the organizations. Often, authorities demand that employees submit to questioning and order them not to leave town until legal action is completed…
"This is not a campaign against piracy, it's a campaign against dissent," said Vitaly Yaroshevsky, a deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, who is in charge of the newspaper's regional editions. "The authorities want to destroy an opposition newspaper. It doesn't matter if we send more computers to Samara. It doesn't matter if we show we bought computers legally. It will change nothing." The paper says it believes its software is legal.