1 March 2016
The New Status of News Aggregators: What Next?

What’s Happened

In late February 2016 a draft law (No. 1004188-6) setting out to regulate the operations of so-called news aggregators was submitted to the State Duma. The reaction from the business community has been mixed, and public authorities are taking different views too. For example, German Klimenko, the Presidential Adviser on Internet Development, supported the initiative, while Deputy Minister Alexey Volin says the Ministry of Communications and Media does not support the draft law, which equates news aggregators and media.

Since it’s thought that the status of news aggregator owner will apply to companies visited by over a million users in 24 hours, the new regulation may affect many big companies, including Yandex, Mail.ru, Google, Rambler, VKontakte, Sputnik, Facebook, Twitter and so on.

According to the draft law, besides owners of websites, the list of entities covered by the new regulation may be much larger and may also include “owners of software used for processing and disseminating news information”.  

Key Aspects

The draft law restricts foreign participation (including all forms of control) in companies that own news aggregators, which will be listed on a special news aggregators register. It’s worth noting that similar restrictions have already been introduced for the media.

Since “news information” is a broad concept in the draft law, the owner of any public information aggregator may be subject to regulation. From a legal standpoint, such entities do not generate information content by themselves, but create the technical conditions for its processing and dissemination on the Internet.

Unlike network media, which provide access to their own news sites, news aggregators use software which automatically scans other sites, organises the information and creates a news feed consisting of headlines and electronic links to sources (usually other media). Therefore, they are not formally the disseminators of such information; consequently the question of whether they can be held responsible for any infringement of the new regulation has not really been addressed.

Unlike information intermediaries, information aggregators in most cases not only create technical conditions for disseminating third parties’ content, but also “pull” content from other sources using technical means and software. So in fact the owners of information aggregators can influence search results and can also block certain information. The logic of the draft law’s initiators suggests that this is enough for such entities to be held responsible.

In addition, the draft law stipulates liability conditions that are more stringent than those applied to the media. For example, the owner of a news aggregator will be held responsible for disseminating information even if it is a literal or partial reproduction of information and materials disseminated by the media. There is an exception for the media in such cases because they are exempt from responsibility if there is a direct disseminator of information who can be held liable. According to industry representatives, owners of news aggregators are not technically able to track and monitor all of their news content.

It should be noted that contrary to the concept of “unavoidable fine” currently under discussion, the draft law provides for the imposition of monetary fines not for the dissemination of information in itself, but for failing to remedy an infringement of the law on the basis of a notice from Roscomnadzor. And the amount of the fine is considerable: up to RUR 200,000 for private individuals and up to RUR 1 million for legal entities. In view of the large volume of different information on the Internet, the risk of being held liable will be rather high, so companies will need to work out a mechanism for timely compliance with Roskomnadzor orders well in advance.

Conclusion

Clearly, the regulation of news aggregator owners (as well as owners of information aggregators in general) is a matter that needs to be worked out in detail. Several large companies have already expressed their concern about the new initiative.

Key contacts

Pavel
Sadovsky

Moscow

Daria
Sergeeva

St. Petersburg

 

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