Fast Company

Russian Court, Offended by One Problem Video, Bars All of YouTube

Russia YouTube ban

2010 certainly seems to be the year of oddly knee-jerk restrictions to Net technology around the world, and adding to the effect now is Siberia, with a total ban on YouTube thanks to a single video.

Google's official European Public Policy blog explains what's been going on: A district court in the Russian far East city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur has ordered ISP Rosnet to block access to every single piece of content on YouTube, after a single user uploaded a video that the court deemed "ultra-nationalistic" and thus offensive. The video was called "Russia for the Russians" and is being branded as extremist propaganda.

It's self-evidently a knee-jerk reaction, since it would be easy to make a formal request to Google to take down the video, or to request Rosnet to bar that particular Google Web address. But Google itself sees the ruling as much more than an over-reaction. It notes that "Online freedom of expression is a global issue and threats to it come from all over the world" and "some Russian Internet users will no longer have access to the myriad of legitimate online content and video available on services such as YouTube, including, ironically, the Russian President’s own YouTube Channel."

Furthermore Google notes that the case highlights an odd situation in Russian law in which the host of a Web-based service, like YouTube videos, can be held legally responsible for what a user uploads--there's no protection for neutrality. Other commentators have worried that Russia's anti-extremism laws, enacted in cases like this, are being misused as oppressive tools to quash free speech.

It's the most recent challenge to Google's Net powers, and comes hard on the heels of Google's decision to finesse how its search engine works in China in order to placate the authorities there. In this new case, however, there's nothing for Google to work with--a legal ruling which reflects what one high-profile Russian blogger calls "ignorance" about how the Net works has just been handed down with no thought about the greater implications. Did the judge in question truly operate in ignorance, or is this a situation where banging the gavel down on a decision that teaches that "naughty" Google a lesson just felt rather good?

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