vKontakte is the most popular online social network in Russia and is also available to a wider international audience in many languages including English. It has in excess of 80 million registered users. Web monitoring companies report that 35 million unique Russian users visit the site every month. Alexa ranks the site as the 20th most popular site worldwide and the 2nd most popular site in Russia. According to public reports, London-listed Russian internet company, Mail.ru is the sole owner of the company.
The site’s music functionality enables users to upload and share music and video files via profile pages, which include hundreds of thousands of unlicensed copyright works. Its dedicated music service enables all other members of VK to search for and instantly stream infringing content uploaded by any other user, giving VK an unfair competitive edge over other social networks that do not offer free access to unlicensed material, as well as over licensed music platforms.
vKontakte’s ongoing facilitation of piracy causes very substantial damage. First, artists and record companies are seeing virtually their entire repertoire made available to the public without permission or payment. Second, the infringements give vKontakte an unfair advantage over the 14 licensed music services in Russia, such as iTunes, Google Music, Deezer Trava.ru (Megafon) and Yandex. Music, which pay for the music they use, greatly undermining the market penetration of licensed services in the woefully underperforming Russian market. Third, it also causes unfair competition to legitimate services outside of Russia to the extent users outside of Russia turn to the mobile apps connected to the service rather than legitimate sources to stream or download our members’ music.
At least two courts in Russia have found vKontakte Ltd. responsible for copyright infringement of sound recordings. First, in a copyright infringement litigation brought by Russian record label Gala Records against vKontakte Ltd, the courts found that the site’s operators had failed to take reasonable measures in response to notices from copyright owners, and ordered some limited compensation for infringements of specific repertoire. Second, in an infringement proceeding brought by Sony Music Russia, Universal Music Russia and Warner Music UK Limited, the court of first instance handed down decisions in the Universal and Warner cases on 28 September 2015, requiring vKontakte to implement effective technical measures to prevent Warner and Universal’s sound recordings from being uploaded to vKontakte. At the time of writing the court had only given a brief oral judgment, with written judgment to follow.