Belarus legalises piracy for content from ‘unfriendly’ countries

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On January 3, Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a new law (opens in new tab) (via Deutsche Welle (opens in new tab)) which effectively permits piracy in the country. With the lofty aim of—among other things—developing “the intellectual and spiritual-moral potential of society,” the law allows for the use “without the consent of the rights holder” of software, movies, and music “from foreign states committing unfriendly actions” against Belarus, so long as they’re deemed “essential for the domestic market”.

What constitutes essentiality in this context isn’t mentioned in the text of the law itself. But insofar as software is concerned, it’s a good bet that fundamental tech like Windows, and perhaps even Microsoft Office and the Adobe suite, would make the cut. But when it comes to films, music, and games (which would presumably fall under the “software” rubric), I struggle to imagine how anything could really be considered a crucial gear in Belarus’ domestic market.

The law doesn’t quite allow for a total free-for-all on digital media from the myriad countries that have sanctioned Belarus in recent years (opens in new tab), and particularly after its support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (opens in new tab). At least in theory, people or organisations making use of pirated content will have to pay for it—but the money will go into the Belarusian bank accounts operated by the Belarusian patent authority. Rights holders will then get a three-year time limit to file a request for remuneration with the Belarusian government. If rights holders run out of time, the state gets the cash.

But even in the fantastical scenario that everyone making use of pirated stuff decides to declare it to the authorities and the government responds quickly and sincerely to rights holders’ requests, the actual amount they’ll get paid is up to the discretion of the Belarusian Council of Ministers. The law also stipulates that the patent authority may “deduct no more than 20 percent” of whatever remuneration it handles before it transfers it on to the relevant rights holders. It doesn’t really sound like it’s going to be worth anyone’s time to file a formal request with Belarus over these pirated goods, which is probably exactly the point.

As if all of that weren’t enough, the law has one more surprise tucked away in its pages. It’s now legal for Belarus to import whatever it wants from its list of “essential” goods, regardless of whether or not it has permission from the relevant rights holders. You don’t even have to hail from an “unfriendly” country to fall prey to this one, either. Everything is fair game so long as it’s on the essential list.

The law—or at least its main articles—will remain in effect until December 31, 2024. I’d imagine that if Belarus’ geopolitical situation hasn’t improved by then, it’ll likely be extended.

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