New copyright law could paralyze Kazakh NGOs

Feb 8, 2012

As if following in the steps of the USA and Europe, which are now battling over copyright laws like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA, Kazakhstan has enacted changes to their existing copyright protection acts–changes which will no doubt have a significant impact on the way information is spread over the Kaznet.

The legal document enforcing changes to the copyright acts, the Kazakhstan Criminal Code, and the Code of Administrative Offences was signed into effect on 1 February and identifies severe fines or imprisonment for the violation of copyright.

For example, the illegal usage of the copyrighted objects (as well as their production, storage, and transfer leading to significant damage), is punishable with a fine of up to $7,900 USD (up to 700 base values as identified in the 2011-2012 budget) or one year restricted freedom. Setting up of a resource to exchange the copyright objects causing significant damage is punishable with a fine of up to $9,000 (800 base values) or imprisonment. If convicted of a repeat offence, a person found guilty may get up to five years in prison.

The punishment for the people who are not “causing significant damage” (possibly those who, for example, have only downloaded an illegal copy of a movie to watch) will be a warning. Setting up an exchange resource classified as “not so damageable” (presumably for the pocket of the copyright owner) will lead to a  fine  of $120 to $180 for a person and up to $1,700 for an organization.

In all cases, the tool of the crime (i.e., the computer) may be confiscated.

The law also presumes that access to the resources outside the KZ zone that host and distributed pirated content may be closed for residents of Kazakhstan.

No doubt, copyright needs to be protected in some form. Although I am among those who believe that the copyright term should be decreased from the current dozens of years down to three or, at a maximum, five years. Otherwise there is no incentive for a creator to create.

What is dangerous here is that implementing copyright-protection legislation in former USSR countries based on legislation from the US and EU will not lead to a better protection of inventors, artists, and movie directors. The practice of law implementation in Belarus or Kazakhstan, for example, is dramatically different from that in the US, just as the places of those countries on the indices of corruption, freedom of the press, and economic freedom would suggest.

Unlike ACTA in the EU or SOPA in the US, the Kazakh copyright law was never subject to public discussion.

Upon signing the law into force, a special resource has been set up where the users may vote for or against the copyright protection changes. So far, up to 97 percent of visitors (approx. 200,000 people) have voted against the law leaving more than 90,000 comments.

There is also very good reason to be afraid that this law will be used as a political weapon against opponents or activists. In a country that has access to, (the social network with the world’s biggest database of illegal movies and music available for download and view) it would not be so too complicated to find someone in an “unloyal” organization who watched movies on Vkontrakte, thus putting the whole organization in jeopardy. At the very least, such an organization would be in danger of having laptops and desktops confiscated, which by itself, is an effective means paralyzing any independent organization.

The first impact of this law has been the closure of some of the the most popular Kazakhstan torrent trackers–though still seems to go unfiltered. Many users have changed to torrent trackers and movie sites based outside Kaznet provoking congestion of the country’s external traffic.

Students attending Transitions Online classes in social media and publishing mentioned a case when the management of an NGO forbade one of the students from developing  social media communities of this organization, as they had been, like everyone, reposting the contents from other websites providing the links to the source.

The problem is that now, no one knows how this law will be applied.

About the Author

Alaksiej Lavoncyk

Alaksiej Lavonczyk is a media activist and social media expert from Minsk, Belarus. He had been in charge of the training projects for the NGOs and media on building their capacity in online campaigning and end-user security. Alaksiej had also acted as a consulting and technical expert for NGOs and media in Belarus and four countries of Central Asia (except Turkmenistan) on upgrading media/NGO websites to meet contemporary standards, and on their promotion online. Alaksiej is also running an online training centre for the Central Asians preparing the specialists in SMO promotion.
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