Kazakhstan's Internet community has yet again suffered a setback, this time at the hands of state authorities. In recent months, state interference in the growth of the Internet has reached unprecedented heights. The government's interest in the new trend can be evaluated in various ways but, in particular, as a desire to diffuse and reinforce state power throughout various sectors of society.
Since the Internet is growing quickly, that ambition is quite obvious. It is worth noting, however, that the Internet has one very significant feature: a lack of laws and regulators. And inventing laws for that which bows to no law is a very difficult task.
Intellectual property bill
In early autumn, the government introduced a bill aimed at the defence of intellectual property to the Mazhilis (Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament). The bill, should it pass, will entail a number of changes to the various regulatory instruments of the state, in particular the criminal code and several other laws. Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to adapt to these modifications, since they believe that the Internet should not be restricted by legal parameters – otherwise, it loses its beauty and reason for existence.
This past spring, the ‘three-click’ method [ru] was introduced in Kazakhstan. (The method of “three clicks” consists of several steps: first – formal notice for author of illegal content, second – warning and the third one – opening of criminal case against violator. It was proposed by President of Association of Legal Entities and «Internet— Association of Kazakhstan” Shavkat Sabirov for work on websites with pirate content).
Obviously, it is starting to gain practical support, although the implementation has not been entirely welcome – it is not enough that implementation of the legislation leads only to sanctions (an immediate punishment without warning), but should result in the mass shut-down of sites. Remember the clash over LiveJournal [ru] and counters, and aspects of other portals as well? Domestic ‘shutdowners’ now have local Internet resources in their sights: the target has become torrent-trackers, which massively violate copyright legislation and other related laws.
These decisions have infuriated the Internet community. One portal has been closed down despite its users numbering at least 20,000. Rafik Jafarof is not pleased [ru]:
By passing this law they've set themselves back a minimum of seven years seeing as a large proportion of users will stop using the Internet, which means that internet providers will take a colossal beating […] It would be better to police the streets – how many drug addicts, criminals and potential murders roam these streets? – instead of ‘fighting for copyright.’
On his blog, Sunqar posted a brief analysis [ru] summing up the situation:
‘2 clicks’ in all its glory. The first time, they will warn a fan who shares ‘cultural goods’ with the community. The second time it happens within a year, the justice-makers will fine him, say, 150 bucks and cheerfully take away his computer and modem.
A representative of the publisher iPORT.kz – JZU – speculates [ru]:
Even though the closure of the offending sites is adequate, the powers that be still made me laugh: they caught some of the thousands of illegal distributors (and made a PR stunt out of it) when there are a lot of other illegal things that could be pointed to on Kaznet.
The editors of the New Reporter published a fresh and topical post [ru] on the matter, in which they assembled all the most interesting opinions:
Deputy Murat Abenov suggests freeing the owners of Internet resources of responsibility for the actions of those users who, for example, host pirate films, and to punish them only if the owner knows about counterfeit content but does not react to an appeal from the copyright holder. A similar practice is in operation in the USA and permits sites to develop actively.
Another deputy, Nurlan Onerbay, suggested combatting not only domestic pirates, but foreign ones too. His version of the clause on the violation of copyright stipulates that “for foreign media that constitute Internet resources: the closure of access to the specified Internet resources on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
Moreover, the issue is not just the closure of particular pages but the complete blocking of a site. By the way, on YouTube, VKontakte, and Moy Mir there are dozens of clips of the singer Nurlan Onerbay. If the deputy/singer's amendments are accepted, these resources, which are popular in Kazakhstan, could be completely blocked.
Internet user Rocfor went over all the aforementioned in quite a harsh manner and, as a result, declared [ru]:
In this country there are so many problems of a social character, yet they […] are thinking about the Internet – how progressive and considerate our government is.
Internet user Zebroman talks [ru] about how the bill is not the best idea, confirming his opinion with these words:
I am a young professional. The country should in principle be interested in me. My salary is 42,000 tenge (US$ 285). Licences cost (for your ‘music lovers’) from 2,000 to 5,000 tenge (US$ 13 – 34). A cinema ticket costs 1,000 (around US$ 7). The question of the day is: what else can I do but download films, music, games and trackers?
We decided to consult other well known Kazakh commentators; Azamat Omarov [ru], gave this opinion on the matter:
If we compare the current version of the law and the draft the new version, I do not see anything fundamentally new. The emphasis in the draft is placed on punitive measures and does not reveal procedural aspects. The future law will not make possible any kind of reduction in the use of unlicensed content on the global network. The most that it can do is put Kaznet's leaders out by sending Kazakh users to external sites. Everyone understands perfectly well that even if all Kazakh sites were to be shut down, the number of users of counterfeit material would not diminish and copyright holders should expect no increase in revenues.
On the whole, the new law gives exclusive discretion over what falls in line to state authorities. Consequently, it is now possible to close absolutely any portal if an authority considers that it violates copyright law. But this inevitably will lead to a deterioration in the relationship between the state and its citizens, seeing as it interferes with the constitutional right to free access to information. However, approval of the law is planned for the middle of 2012 and in all likelihood a lot will change before then.