Belarus legalises pirated media from ‘unfriendly countries’ in petty pro-Russia move

By Mason Berlinka

Published Jan 11, 2023 at 01:38 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Russia’s BFF Belarus has done the unexpected—the Eastern European territory has legalised digital piracy (aka illegal downloading) against “unfriendly countries” in a law that was passed on 3 January 2023. Not the most orthodox of attacks on the West, but certainly an interesting move by the dictatorship, a backward-thinking country where open criticism of its unelected leader is severely punished.

The new law, as reported by Polish News, was approved by the country’s leader Alyaksandr Lukashenko and allows for the free downloading and distribution of films, music, and computer programs from “unfriendly countries,” without a need for copyright holders’ permission. In other words, all digital goods are fair game as long as they’re designed or created in the West.

Belarus’ long-standing alliance with Russia in its invasion of Ukraine led it to also be the subject of several sanctions, notably including a halt of sales from computer tech firms Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel Corporation, with gaming marketplace Steam also cutting ties with the territory due to the “current environment.”

The law, which fundamentally legalises bootlegging, is supposed to help Belarus’ economy and society function better by allowing the use of these previously considered copyrighted works by film distributors, cinema organisers and broadcasters.

The new law does come with a caveat, however. Belarusians are supposed to pay for the goods all the same. Simply put, even though there are no exclusive rights to the works, the country will still collect remuneration for the goods. The money will be paid to the government, at which point the creators have a three-year period to collect the funds for the sale.

That added bit of information makes things sound not so bad all of a sudden, right? Well, TorrentFreak pointed out that although this seems like at least creators will get some sort of compensation for their stolen works, it is up to citizens of Belarus to declare usage and actually pay for the pirated media, which, let’s be real, nobody will ever do. Pirates aren’t exactly known for their desire to fulfil these transactions with monetary exchange.

Belarus also claimed that the copyright holders must then reimburse the Patent Authority—the government body that will be handling proceedings for the new law—for its management and accounting expenses. So the country is not only refusing to pay for the licences and rights of these products, it is also demanding that a fee be paid to the government for the handling of the funds it may receive for the distribution of their media.

Oh, and the bank that these funds are all paid into? It’s currently under sanction—so completely inaccessible from the West anyway.

The law will remain in place until 31 December 2024, providing the country with a very odd but apparently much-needed boost to its economy as it tries to participate in Russia’s wargame.

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