(Sept. 13, 2019) On August 22, 2019, a federal district court in St. Petersburg ordered that the registration of a candidate who was running for a district council seat be terminated. The court banned her from participating in the forthcoming municipal elections because her electoral opponent had accused her of using the largest Russian social network, V Kontakte, for election purposes and filed a suit against her.
According to news reports, in early August, the defendant, who was running as an independent candidate in the municipal elections, posted a note on her V Kontakte site stating that she was registered as a candidate by the election commission, and placed a hashtag calling for people to vote for her. The plaintiff, who is running against the defendant in the elections, stated that the post constituted campaign advertising and therefore should be paid for from the candidate’s official campaign funds, as with all other election materials. The plaintiff cited article 6.3.14 of the V Kontakte system’s user agreement, which prohibits “posting political advertisements outside the special Site section as determined by the Site Administration.”
The court sided with the plaintiff. In its ruling, the court stated that the social network is a computer program subject to copyright protection. It confirmed that the network can be used only for purposes established by the licensing agreement between the network and users. The court held that, because the agreement does not allow the posting of campaign materials on the personal sites of network users, the defendant conducted illegal campaigning, violated the licensing agreement, and breached network’s copyright. The court ordered the defendant’s name removed from the ballot and excluded her from participating in the elections. The court did not accept the position of the defendant’s lawyer that the V Kontakte rule addresses commercial advertisements only and does not relate to personal pages of network users where people inform others about themselves. The court also rejected the defense’s argument that because the V Kontakte system does not allow users to push information from their personal pages throughout the network, a personal posting cannot be considered a full-fledged advertisement and, therefore, the defendant’s social media posting was not an act of campaigning. The defendant has appealed the ruling to the regional court.
The press service of the V Kontakte network commented that even though its rules prohibit unofficial political advertising, this restriction “has nothing to do with personal profile posts, where it is not technically possible to run an advertising promotion,” and that the network objects to candidates for public office being “persecuted” for their posts.