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Plans for taxing access to Internet meet unanimous protests

February 25, 2015, 17:20 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Alexander Ryumin/TASS

MOSCOW, February 25. /TASS/. The Russian Culture Ministry’s idea of introducing a special tax on access to the Internet, something unheard of around the world, has faced a chorus of criticism. Other government ministries, State Duma deputies, members of the Internet community and even copyright holders, whose rights the initiative is ostensibly called to safeguard, have presented a common front.

The Russian Culture Ministry has drafted a bill on what it called "copyright fee" all users of the Russian segment of the world web would be obliged to pay. If the bill is adopted and signed into law, each single Internet surfer will have to pay an annual tax to the operator having a global license. The latter would share part of the proceeds with the authors of books, songs and films. In fact, copyright holders refuse to get protection of their intellectual products in the world web and every user will be able to have access to them free of charge.

The proposed Internet tax is set at 300 rubles a year, which, according to some estimates, will make it possible to raise up to 860 million dollars every twelve months.

The idea of a copyright fee in the Internet was first proposed in October 2014 by the Russian Copyright Holders’ Union under film director Nikita Mikhalkov. The response to this idea from many agencies, including the Communications Ministry, Economic Development Ministry, the control and law departments of the presidential staff and the Federal Antimonopoly Service was negative.

The Culture Ministry’s draft has met with quite a few unfavorable comments, too. The Communications Ministry and Economic Development Ministry are against. Many State Duma members from different factions are critical of the proposed tax, too.

The bill is bad for many reasons, chief analyst at the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, Karen Kazarian, has told TASS.

"First and foremost, the public will have the illusion piracy has been legalized, although in reality this is not so. The measure will deal a hard blow on the legal market of content, which began to emerge after the adoption of the anti-piracy law but is still embryonic - in other words, on those who have already begun to make money on legal content. Secondly, the technical measures that have been proposed for adoption to identify the popularity of certain authors will require huge costs and jeopardize the confidentiality of users. This is so because each user’s downloads will have to be tracked, and this is against Russian legislation."

Besides, Kazarian said, the bill’s content contradicts Russia’s international commitments, including those assumed within the WTO framework.

Should the bill be adopted, the expert explained, three organizations will be granted the right to receive and distribute the funds collected from Internet users - the Russian Union of Copyright Holders, the All-Russia Association of Intellectual Property and the Russian Copyright Society. "There is no other alternative. And there is an utter lack of transparency regarding the distribution of money within these organizations, which have already aroused many questions."

And lastly, Kazarian recalls, Russia has the special tax on digital and other media. "The Russian Copyright Holders’ Union is already getting proceeds from the manufacturers of PCs, mobiles, etc. We are paying already," he said.

"Everybody is against this bill: businesses, industry representatives and even copyright holders," the director of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, Sergey Plugotarenko, said. "The unanimity is unique."

True, the attitude of two departments of the presidential staff makes one hopeful the bill will be eventually turned down. "But its authors are in the process of modifying it on and on, thereby distracting the public at large from the gist of the document, which, incidentally, by no means guarantees the availability of content even for money. Foreign copyright holders may just refuse to provide access."


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