Belarus, the Russia-adjacent country run by Putin’s buddy Alexander Lukashenko, has made it legal to steal music. Actually, the new law also applies to movies, software, TV, and other intellectual property owned by rightsholders in “unfriendly nations.” Given Lukashenko’s role in the invasion of Ukraine, “unfriendly nations” applies to almost everyone. The big targets are obvious: The US, the UK, and the EU.
The law, passed on December 20, goes into effect this week.
What’s the rationale? It’s in response to sanctions Western nations have imposed on Belarus for cozying up to Putin and allowing him to use the country as a staging ground for invading Ukraine. “If you’re going to sanction us, we’re going to have to prop up our economy somehow. And one way we’ll do that is steal the stuff we used to pay for.”
But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Piracy will be legal for two years (it expires December 31, 2024) BUT Belarussians will still have to pay for the content with the government setting prices for consumers. Owners of IP have three years to claim money that will be collected by the country’s National Patent Authority. But because the country’s bank is prevented from doing business with Western nations, good luck in collecting it. And if someone like, say Universal or Microsoft does succeed in claiming their money, Belarus will withhold 20% for “management and accounting expenses.”
It’s not really legalized piracy. Instead, Lukashenko has come up with a way that ordinary people pay the government instead of the original IP holders for this content/software. The government is the pirate, not the consumer.