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If you haven’t heard about the Pirate Bay case then you must have been living in a box (or should that be treasure chest) for the last month or so as the story has been all over the industry news. But just in case you don’t know what happened, here is a quick recap.

Neil Watson, Technical Support Manager

Neil Watson, Technical Support Manager

On 17th April 2009 a Swedish court found the four founders of The Pirate Bay, a website that distributes links to files that can be downloaded and shared via P2P clients, guilty of assisting file sharing of copyrighted material. They were each sentenced to 1 year in jail and ordered to pay £2.4million in damages to the entertainment industry. However latest news reports have announced they plan to launch an appeal.

Unsurprisingly the verdict has received mixed emotions from the various parties affected. The entertainment industry has come out in force to support the ruling hailing it a triumph, whilst a large amount of pro-file sharing protestors hit the streets of Stockholm in outrage.

This trial concluded just a few weeks after Sweden brought in its new Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) which is based on a European Union directive which forces ISPs to provide the police with the personal details of suspected copyright infringers. Sweden saw a significant 30% drop in Internet traffic on the day the law came into effect.

Whilst initial statistics suggest the implementation of the new law is having the desired effect there are wider spread concerns that this will be temporary and will simply result in the pirates going underground, making it harder to track their activities and prosecute.

So that’s what happened in Sweden but what about the UK?

As ISPs and the entertainment industry continue to disagree on a mutual solution, government intervention looks increasingly likely. Whilst ISPs understand the necessity to control the issue of illegal file sharing they are understandably averse to a role of policing the Internet and eager to protect the privacy of their customers. The costs involved in such a policy could force many smaller ISPs out of business.

The government’s current approach is already causing some concern. It plans to introduce a Digital Rights Agency (DRA) to enforce copyright law on the Internet. Whilst the majority of parties involved welcome this move there are concerns from almost all over the consultation timescales in place. The overriding concern is that the implementation of the DRA will be rushed and will not consider the requirements of all parties involved, causing potentially avoidable problems further down the line.

You may recall one of our previous articles “Are you on the list?” which discussed the complexities involved in accurately monitoring illegal file sharing behaviour and in particular the ruthless approach of Davenport Lyons. This issue highlighted the immense possibility of injustice through the shortfalls of the current technologies being used to track allegedly illegal behaviour.

At this stage it’s hard to say what will happen in the UK so much is still to be discussed. It is clear to all (including the Internet industry) that something needs to be done to reduce illegal file sharing yet a complete solution still seems out of reach. We will be keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of the new Swedish policies and will be bringing you more information as and when it becomes available. Watch this space!

Further reading

Have your say!

What do you think of the Swedish and British governments’ approaches to illegal file sharing? How would it affect you as an ISP or end user? What solutions do you think should be considered by all parties? Let us know your thoughts by adding a comment below.

UPDATED: 17th June 2009

Yesterday saw the release of the long awaited Digital Britain report which included an outline to tackle illegal file sharing in the UK. The report suggests that new powers will be given to Ofcom to enforce two conditions on ISPs. The first is a requirement for ISPs to contact customers suspected of illegal file sharing (when notified by the rights holder) advising them of their copyright infringement activities. The second states that ISPs will be required to collate anonymous information on repeat offenders which will be required by the rights holders (via court order) for use in prosecution. The Government’s aim is to reduce illegal file sharing by 70-80% within 2 years. After 12 months the proposal’s effectiveness will be reviewed and if necessary Ofcom will be able to use additional ‘backstop’ powers to impose additional technical conditions on ISPs including Blocking (IP, Site or URL), protocol blocking, port blocking, bandwidth capping, bandwidth shaping and content identification and filtering.

The report quotes research stating that, once alerted to their illegal activities, the majority of Internet users cease illegal file sharing. Along with several other leading ISPs Entanet already contacts individuals allegedly breaching copyright to notify them of their activities in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between rights holders and ISPs. We believe these proposals will struggle to achieve the Government’s high reduction target. We are also concerned by the potential for wrongly accused individuals to be penalised. The Government’s proposals retain the process of rights holders tracking IP addresses and then requesting the ISPs to take action. However as we have covered in our earlier articles, the possibility for inaccuracies is high with many innocent users being accused. This is because IP addresses can be spoofed, redirected and even hijacked. Equally, we think that placing the responsibility for identifying illegal activity squarely and solely on the shoulders of ISPs isn’t the answer to the problem. Rather, we think that rights owners need to review their own business models to take into account how they can maximise availability to the market while protecting their copyright and profiting from it.

The report does actually touch on encouragement of the media industry to review its current business models, albeit very briefly. It states that if provided with an easy and affordable legal alternative, the majority of users would opt for this. We feel this is fundamental to tackling this issue and not covered in anywhere near enough detail in the report. Several ISPs are investigating ways to provide legal download services but surely the huge cost impact on the media industry warrants them to consider new distribution models to help counter the problem.

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One Response to “The Pirates of . . . Sweden”

  1. It’s unfortunate, I think, that the question is about “illegal” filesharing, particularly when it is “illegal” because existing laws do not really reflect modern technology or the zeitgeist – the spirit of the age.

    Copyright laws (and other “IP” e.g. patents) arose as a means by which government were trying to stimulate invention, innovation, knowledge creation and dissemination, and ultimately wealth for the nation. The idea was to give a monopoly to the “creator” for a limited period of time, after which the protected work would become freely available to one and all.

    Over the years this has created a huge “content” industry, who do not like the idea of the limited period (hence previous and current lobbying to extend copyright period). Nor do they like the idea that their customers should have the technology to “transform” from one media to another (you bought the CD but you must buy the mp3 for you iPod etc).

    And so it is that the current debate is all about how to protect “big content” business model – it’s the wrong debate completely. The debate should be about how can we stimulate creativity in the current era. What is needed to do it? Is a monopoly approach still valid? To what extent?

    Lord Gower tackled this fairly well, but his answer did not chime with big content and the government were lobbied to ignore the Gower Report. A great shame and an opportunity wasted.

    Anyway, with respect to internet control etc, I think some of the proposals are very wrong – they will end up limiting people’s freedoms for the sake of a few big companies’ bottom line. It’s unacceptable.

    I’m glad Entanet have a legal but not draconian approach, and one that respects the freedom and privacy of their users. I hope you continue with that approach, and use your voice during consultations to promote the freedoms of your users, and to reject controls that simply place you as the policeman for “big content”.

    We’d all be outraged, I’m sure, if the Royal Mail were asked to inspect all post and parcels to see if they contained, for example, a copyright infringing DVD or CD. Don’t let yourselves be forced into that kind of behaviour!

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