Many countries around the world have systems in place to block access to copyright-infringing content and even entire sites.
Russia’s system is particularly streamlined and has resulted in large volumes of pirate sites being rendered inaccessible to the country’s citizens.
However, Russia’s blocking system isn’t only used to protect rightsholders. It’s regularly used to prevent access to terrorism-related material and other content considered dangerous to the public or even insulting to the state.
On November 28, 2019, US-based stock footage site Shutterstock appeared on Russia’s registry of banned domains. Authority for the blocking was granted by the Prosecutor General’s Office on November 13, 2019, and as shown in the image below, covers one domain and two IP addresses.
At first view, one might consider this to be a copyright infringement issue. However, those who visit the URL detailed at the top of the notice will find what appears to be an image of a Russian flag placed in the middle of a pile of excrement. Russian authorities do not take kindly to their national symbols depicted in such a fashion and have laws in place to prevent it.
As a result, Russian ISPs are now blocking two Shutterstock-related IP addresses (one in Germany, one in the Netherlands) which are both operated by cloud company Akamai. Whether other sites using the same IP addresses are also being affected is currently unclear.
For good measure, Russia is also targeting the image.shutterstock.com domain. As highlighted by Russian digital rights group Roskomsvoboda, which first reported the news, this is particularly problematic since rather than tackling just a single URL, a whole HTTPS subdomain is in the register.
While overblocking is never welcome, the great irony here is that while the Russian blacklist is often used to protect the rights of content creators, it is now effectively restricting their ability to do legitimate business in Russia via Shutterstock. Whether the company will remove the image to resolve the matter remains to be seen.