VKontakte, known as the "Russian Facebook," is under fire in court from three major record labels that accuse the social media giant of doing little to stop wide-scale piracy by users.
A judge in arbitration court for the St. Petersburg and Leningrad region decided on Monday to consolidate separate complaints from Sony Music Russia, Universal Music Russia and Warner Music U.K. into one case against VKontakte, which boasts 142 million global users and is Russia's second most popular website.
VK openly allows users to upload copyrighted music and videos to their profiles, but the site has yet to secure licensing deals with rights holders, despite numerous warnings from regulators. The labels want VK to pay damages and implement fingerprint technology that would delete copyrighted material and prevent re-uploading.
Recording industry watchdogs NFMI and IFPI have joined with the labels to support the court action. In comments to the BBC, IFPI chief Frances Moore said VK was "designed for copyright infringement on a large scale" and that all parties have grown impatient with the company, launched in 2006 by Russian magnate Pavel Durov.
"We have repeatedly highlighted this problem over a long period of time," Moore said. "We have encouraged VK to cease its infringements and negotiate with record companies to become a licensed service. To date the company has taken no meaningful steps to tackle the problem."
The relative ease of acquiring free music in Russia has had an unsurprisingly negative impact on the industry there. Russia is currently ranked outside the top 20 of international music markets, and licensed digital services like Yandex and Trava, as well as global services like iTunes, have struggled to grow. According to IFPI, digital services are only growing $0.50 per capita as opposed to the European average of $8.40.
VK won a similar case in October brought by local label Soyuz, which accused the site of hosting stolen material. Despite winning, VK agreed with watchdog Roskomnadzor to block copyrighted content on the site.
Durov, who was ousted by the company in April, is seen as a supporter of free file-sharing. VK was dubbed the "Russian Facebook" because it has a similar design and uses the same color scheme as the original.
Hearings for the Sony/Universal/Warner case begin on Sept. 8.