YouTube Files Appeal Against Regulator In Russia Over Content Blocked By New Firewall

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Google this week fired off one of the first high-profile tests of Russia’s controversial new firewall — erected November 1, 2012 to block child porn, drugs and suicide content; but seen by critics as a route for the government to block whatever else it chooses. Google’s YouTube operation in Russia has filed an appeal against the Russian regulator for blocking YouTube content. The appeal, filed on February 11 by YouTube LLC, concerns the blacklisting of a video that showed how to apply Halloween makeup: because it shows how to make a wound, Roscomnadzor (Russia’s consumer watchdog) also deemed that it encouraged suicide and suicidal tendencies. The video is embedded below.

The news of the suit was also reported in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti and the WSJ.

Google’s position is that there is not enough clarification on what kind of content is permitted or not. In this case, a video intended for entertainment has been misinterpreted, it believes. A spokesperson in Russia, Alla Zabrovskaya, provided the following statement to TechCrunch:

“YouTube provides a community where people from around the world can express themselves by sharing videos and being informed. 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. 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.”

This case is an appeal of an existing ruling to block a video; it’s not a lawsuit and so it does not entail any financial claims over lost revenue, TechCrunch understands.

The situation highlights a problem of Russia’s new firewall: it was erected to block specific pages that violate Russia’s laws, but has apparently it been less nuanced in its actual application. On top of that, when the regulator decides to block one piece of content on a site, the entirety of that IP gets blocked.

While it is appealing the decision, YouTube has taken down the suicide video, but if it had not, then all of YouTube would have been blocked in Russia, TechCrunch understands.

It also underscores the tension that continues to exist in Russia over free speech and government control; and the role that international (Western) giants like Google play in the country’s information and tech economies.

YouTube has been dancing around the Russian regulator’s firewall for months now. Back in November, just weeks after the laws came into effect, YouTube faced a temporary block that was later attributed to a technical error. At the time, this is how Zabrovskaya described it to me:

“There is not much to comment, it was a technical mistake…YouTube was never blocked, it just appeared in the “black list”, and then was deleted almost immediately as the news cycle started.”

But at the time she also sounded a note of warning, which this week is now coming into play with YouTube’s formal suit:

“We have expressed our opinion on the law, underlining that IP or DNS-blocking system is damaging to Internet development in Russia, as these are the ways which could potentially block the entirety of the product (YT or any other UGC-product ) over one piece of illegal content.”

The WSJ reports that there is another company filing a suit against Roscomnadzor, although it doesn’t specify a name or indication whether it is a Russian or international content provider. Other video streaming sites that compete against YouTube in Russia include RuTube and Ivi.ru (the “Hulu of Russia”); both are significantly smaller than YouTube in terms of reach.

We are contacting Roscomnadzor for comment and will update this story as we learn more.