Why it matters: Belarus has a new law that makes piracy legal — sort of. It applies to all software, movies, music, and television shows owned by rightsholders in "unfriendly nations," which includes the US, UK, and EU member states. The law passed the House of Representatives on December 20, 2022, and the Council of the Republic the following day. "President" Alexander Lukashenko signed the legislation into law last week.

The law passed the Belarus House of Representatives on December 20, 2022, and the Council of the Republic the following day. "President" Alexander Lukashenko signed the legislation into law last week, and it goes into effect this week.

The legislation is a response to sanctions imposed upon Belarus for support of the invasion of Ukraine. Belarusian rulers have declared piracy an acceptable crutch to prop up its economy against crippling embargoes as the country heavily relies on foreign-made media for entertainment and software infrastructure.

TorrentFreak notes that while the law strips IP holders of their copyrights within Belarus, they can still get paid for pirated content eventually — maybe — at a price. The law stipulates that consumers still have to pay for the material. The country's National Patent Authority (NPA) will collect and hold those funds for three years. During that time, rightsholders can claim their money. However, there are several problems with how legislators set up the system.

First, rightsholders will not set the "price" of goods. Costs won't even follow fair market rules and trends. Instead, the government will set prices, but the law is vague about what metrics it will use.

Second, if the IP owner does not claim its money within the three-year timeframe, the government keeps it. It is unclear whether officials will inform rightsholders of held funds. If it does, it might not even matter. Ongoing sanctions prevent Belarusbank in Minsk — the NPA's state-run bank — from doing business with western nations.

Lastly, if IP owners can get to their money, they will have to forfeit up to 20 percent to the government. This fee supposedly covers the "management and accounting expenses" of the NPA and Belarusbank.

Nobody wins in this situation other than the Belarus government. In essence, Lukashenko has not legalized multimedia piracy so much as developed a scheme where consumers pay the government instead of IP owners — government-run piracy. The law expires on December 31, 2024, but there is nothing stopping the country from reinstating it.

Image credits: FBI Warning by Bizmac, Pirated Music by Santeri Viinamäki