Arrrrrr! Putin's New Internet Advisor Tied to Online Piracy

Pirates of the Kremlin. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Pirates of the Kremlin. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

It turns out that Vladimir Putin’s new Internet advisor could be an enormous facilitator of online piracy, according to a new report. Joining the president’s team just a few weeks ago, German Klimenko has already managed to worry many, first by threatening to shut down messaging app Telegram, and then by touting the benefits of “going the Chinese route” online in Russia. Now he's making headlines again, though it doesn't seem to be by design, this time.

According to an article published on January 18 in the newspaper Vedomosti, Klimenko’s company Mediametrics is tied to another agency called “ECO PC – Complex Solutions,” which owns the website, an online index and repository for torrent files.

On January 17, a day before Vedomosti’s report, Klimenko announced that he intends to transfer control over many of his business holdings to his son. According to Vedmosti’s sources, will be one of these assets.

In comments on Facebook, Klimenko called Vedomosti’s story a “donos” (“denunciation”), implying that someone is using the newspaper to try to smear his reputation. Klimenko also said, “There’s nothing illegal about owning [torrent trackers]. You just need to cooperate with copyright holders and help them fight for their rights.” Three hours later (now well past midnight in Moscow), he wrote facetiously and not without some desperation, “You know, the list of my sins really is impressive: I’m shutting down Telegram, and building a Chinese Internet in place of Russia’s. And I support pirates. All single-handedly and simultaneously.”

Some say Klimenko’s ownership of a torrent index amounts to a conflict of interest. Last week, on January 14, for instance, Klimenko told the news agency Praim that Russia should delay any strict enforcement of copyright law, until the country exits its current economic recession. “In fact, demand for copyright protections rises with economic growth,” he explained. “But when the situation is bad, it seems to me, people shouldn’t terrorize everyone unnecessarily with these questions [about torrents].”

Internet jokesters (with Star Wars memes at the ready) are already going to town with Klimenko's predicament, mocking him for tough talk against Western Internet companies, while having ties to a website that facilitates online piracy.

It turns out the president's Internet advisor is the owner of a torrent tracker. [Caption reads, “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the torrent trackers, not join them!”]

At the time of this writing, the splash page for (torrNADO, or “Gotta Torrent”) featured links to torrents for several clearly pirated Hollywood films, including Hotel Transylvania 2, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Ant-Man, and more.

Klimenko was appointed to serve as President Putin’s advisor on the Internet and online commerce on January 4. Klimenko’s duties and responsibilities in this new position remain unclear. The executive order hiring him reads merely, “German S. Klimenko is named advisor to the president of the Russian Federation.”

Klimenko isn’t the first Russian Internet official to be accused of using state office to protect his own business interests. In October 2015, anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny charged Dmitry Marinichev, the Kremlin’s “Internet commissioner,” with earning billions of rubles on uncontested government IT contracts, and then helping engineer a law that “blackmails” foreign companies into renting data servers in Russia. In his own defense, Marinichev claimed that Navalny failed to understand the negligible impact he says data-localization regulations will have on demand for server space in Russia.

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