On April 21, the Russian State Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) approved amendments to the Russian Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information regarding audiovisual services.

These amendments were approved by the Council of the Federation (the upper house) on April 26 and are expected to be signed by President Vladimir Putin in May 2017. If this occurs, the amendments will come into force on July 1, 2017.

This LawFlash covers some of the key features of the proposed amendments.

Affected Services

The amendments would apply to online video services with more than 100,000 Russian users per day that offer content for a fee or on an advertising-supported basis. Any website, software, or application available online that is used for distribution of a “collection of audiovisual works” may be included, as well as applications for distribution of media content that is pre-installed on certain devices.

The amendments would not apply to websites registered as “online media” under the Russian Mass Media Law, internet search services, or websites and services that primarily distribute content posted by individual users (“UGC services”).

It is not clear whether social networks would be affected. This may depend on additional regulations relating to UGC services to be issued by Russia’s mass media and internet regulator, Roskomnadzor.

Content Monitoring and Other Requirements

Online video services would be required to comply with certain mass media laws. In particular, online video services may not distribute socially harmful or “extremist” content, confidential information, unregistered television channels, or certain other restricted content. Age ratings would be required, except for content uploaded by users. Online services would also have to disclose contact information on their websites and install approved software to verify total users.

Foreign Investment Restrictions

Under the amendments, only Russian legal entities and Russian citizens could own audiovisual services. Accordingly, international online video services would need to create a Russian legal entity to continue providing services to Russian users. However, foreign investors that operate international audiovisual services for which half of the users are located outside of Russia would not be allowed to own more than 20% of such a Russian legal entity without special permission from a Russian government commission.

These restrictions are somewhat less severe than the rules recently imposed on other mass media organizations such as television and radio channels and print or online publications. Since 2016, any direct or indirect foreign investment resulting in ownership or control of more than 20% of such an organization is generally prohibited, and there is no possibility for the Russian authorities to grant exceptions.

Register of Audiovisual Services

Roskomnadzor would maintain a register of audiovisual services. Upon identifying an online service available in Russia, Roskomnadzor may notify the owner and include the service in its register. Within two months after such notice, the owner of the service should provide evidence to confirm its compliance with the foreign ownership restrictions. Failure to do so may result in Roskomnadzor obtaining a court order to block the service in Russia.

Enforcement

Violations of the above rules could also incur penalties ranging from 500,000–3,000,000 rubles (8,000–50,000 US dollars at current exchange rates). Further, Roskomnadzor may commence proceedings to obtain a court order blocking distribution of the service in Russia.