Thursday, 16 February 2012

EU Court Bans Anti-Piracy Filters On Hosting Services

In a legal battle between music rights group SABAM and social networking site Netlog, the European Court of Justice delivered an unprecedented ruling today. The Court ruled that hosting sites can’t filter copyrighted content as that would violate the privacy of users and hinder freedom of information. The case at the highest European court has far-reaching consequences for many online services including cyberlockers and BitTorrent sites.

For several years music rights group SABAM and the social networking site Netlog have battled in court. To protect the rights of its members, SABAM demanded that Netlog should install a tool that would scan all files uploaded by its users for copyright infringement.

Today the European Court of Justice delivered its ruling, concluding that the social network can’t be forced to install an anti-piracy filter.

“This obligation would be contrary to the requirement that a proper balance is ensured between the protection of copyright and the freedom of entrepreneurship, the right to privacy freedom, and the freedom to obtain knowledge and information,” the Court announced.

The Court noted that the privacy of users is more important than protecting copyright. In addition, it fears that a filter would result in censorship of legitimate content, thereby obstructing freedom of information.

“[The filter] could potentially undermine freedom of information, since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications,” the Court writes.

The unprecedented decision may have major implications for all services in Europe that host user uploaded content, not least among cyberlockers such as RapidShare. Also, the verdict would prevent copyright holders ordering BitTorrent sites to filter uploaded files, something that isoHunt already does based on a US injunction.

“I think this would apply to general file-hosting services, just as it has also done to conventional ISP services,” Mark Owen, head of the intellectual property practice at the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis told TorrentFreak. “A rightsholder may be able to get an injunction provided it is drafted narrowly enough. The ruling is against injunctions which it thinks are too wide, such that they are tantamount to a general duty to monitor.”

Rick Falkvinge, founder of the first Pirate Party in Sweden, is happy that the EU Court of Justice has placed the rights of people above those of corporations.

“I think it is quite remarkable, and very promising, that Europe’s highest court says outright that the copyright monopoly and people’s right to privacy of correspondence cannot be protected at the same time – and most importantly, that the latter has unequivocal precedence,” Rick Falkvinge told TorrentFreak.

“This is what we have been saying since 2006, that there is a strong conflict between the copyright monopoly and fundamental rights. It is quite a relief to see that not only confirmed in black and white, but also a verdict that the fundamental rights override the copyright monopoly.”

The entertainment industry on the other hand, will be greatly disappointed, as they are pushing hard for online services to take greater responsibility when it comes to copyright infringement.

Today’s ruling follows a similar European Court of Justice ruling last November which concluded that Belgian Internet provider Scarlet could not be forced to monitor subscriber traffic to detect piracy because that would violate the fundamental rights of both the ISP and its subscribers.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

UK Seize Popular Music Blog, Arrest Operators and Threaten Readers

As part of a criminal investigation the UK Government has shut down the popular blog RnBXclusive which posted news, commentary and links to music. Authorities have arrested the owners of the site for allegedly defrauding the music industry. In addition, the Serious Organised Crime Agency is threatening users of RnBXclusive that they face 10 years in prison if they downloaded music through the site.

Founded in 2008, quickly became one of the most popular R&B / hip hop blogs. With over a quarter million fans on Facebook it was the go-to destination for many music fans.

But that all changed today when the UK Government’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) took over the domain and arrested its operators.

“SOCA has taken control of this domain name. The individuals behind this website have been arrested for fraud,” reads a message on the site’s home page.

In addition to arresting the site’s operators for allegedly defrauding the music industry by posting links to copyrighted music, SOCA also warns those who used the site to download tracks.

In a rather threatening tone SOCA explains that RnBXclusive readers face up to 10 years in prison.

“The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists. If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law.”

To guarantee maximum impact the warning also displays the IP-address of those who visit the site. SOCA explains that they may use this information for further investigation.

“SOCA has the capability to monitor and investigate you, and can inform your internet service provider of these infringements. You may be liable for prosecution and the fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution.”

The above is reminiscent of a message that was displayed when the UK authorities shut down the popular BitTorrent tracker OiNK. At the time, the site’s visitors also received a warning. The OiNK case, however, turned out to be a waste of tax payer money and the site’s owner eventually walked free.

Finally, SOCA’s warning on RnBXclusive concludes with a rather tendentious claim which appears to come directly from a music industry lobby group.

“As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry.”

The above is worrying, because it wouldn’t be the first time that UK authorities are dragged into a criminal investigation solely based on evidence provided by the entertainment industries. In fact, this was the main reason why the operators of another BitTorrent tracker – FileSoup – had their case dismissed.

In the US similar mistakes were made with the seizure of the music blog Dajaz1. More than a year after Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized the site’s domain, they finally gave it back. It turned out that the seizure was a mistake.

Mel of Dajaz1 also sees similarities between today’s actions and the seizure of their site in 2010.

“Unbelievable, apparently the UK Govt doesn’t believe in Due Process either and their claims of damaging the industry and artists is unsupported propaganda,” she told TorrentFreak. “We’re completely against the process of seizing first and asking questions later.”

Thus far UK authorities haven’t officially responded to the RnBXclusive shutdown and arrests. We will add an update as more news becomes available.