Google's video site, YouTube, is challenging a Russian federal agency's ban on one of the videos it hosts in a bid to clarify the effects of a law some Russian IT companies say could lead to Internet censorship.
YouTube filed suit in a Moscow court after the Russian federal agency for consumer protection and public health and safety, Rospotrebnadzor, ordered it to prevent Russians from viewing a video that shows how to create a theatrical make-up effect. The video demonstrates how a blunted razor, glue and fake blood can make it appear a razor blade is actually sticking out of someone's wrist. This could be a useful trick for Halloween, but the consumer regulator sees it as an instruction video on how to commit suicide, a source familiar with the matter said.
YouTube decided to block the video in Russia rather than risk its entire site being blocked there if the case went to court, the source said. However, the company decided to sue Rospotrebnadzor to clarify the boundaries of the legislation used to block the video, the source added.
"While we support the greatest access to information possible, we will, at times, restrict content on country-specific domains where a nation's laws require it or if content is found to violate our Community Guidelines," a Google spokesman said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. "In this case, we have appealed the decision of Russian Consumer Watchdog because we do not believe that the goal of the law was to limit access to videos that are clearly intended to entertain viewers," Google added.
The law in question was adopted by the upper house of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council of Russia, in July. It included amendments to existing laws, making it easier to block sites that host child pornography, promote drugs or provide instructions about how to commit suicide. The changes also included the creation of mechanisms for the rapid removal of Web pages that contain materials prohibited from circulation within Russia.
The changes were met with great criticism from the Russian Internet industry because they allow the blocking of websites through IP and DNS blockades. These blockades leave the opportunity to blacklist whole domains when only part of the hosted content is illegal.
This happened before, for instance, when access to 1.3 million blogs hosted on Google service Blogger were blocked in Russia as a result of a court ruling that ordered the blockade of extremist blogs, Google Russia said last year. And the entire YouTube domain was blocked by a local Internet provider in 2010, after a court ruled that one of the movies there hosted was illegal, according to Google.
YouTube will probably win the lawsuit against the consumer regulator, said Vladimir Medeyko, director of Wikimedia Russia, the organization that runs the local version of Wikipedia, via instant message. His organization has been a vocal opponent of the new legislation.
"However, it won't have a significant influence on the law and related practices, I think," Medeyko said, adding that it is the duty of the alleged offender to prove its innocence and not the regulators' duty to prove guilt. YouTube's decision to sue the regulator after it blocked the video is in line with what the law aims to do, he said. "So the case will just be used to claim that the law works perfectly," he added.
If there are more lawsuits like this one things might change, because they might have a social effect, Medeyko said. "But only if there are lot of them."