Anti-Piracy Groups Send 3.6 Million File-Sharing Cash Demands

As the United States recoils in horror at the rapid acceleration of so-called 'speculative invoicing' schemes designed to force cash from alleged file-sharers, over in Europe the Germans are showing how it's really done. According to information published by Germany's Internet industry association, rightsholders there are targeting 300,000 alleged file-sharers every month - a staggering 3.6 million a year.

cashIn February 2011, the US Copyright Group filed a new mass lawsuit on behalf of Nu Image, the studio behind action movie The Expendables. Initially this case included 6,500 John Doe defendants, but eventually swelled to a massive 23,322 sharers.

Then last month, with the ooos and aaahs barely silenced, along came another beefed-up lawsuit, this time on behalf of Voltage Pictures, the studio behind The Hurt Locker. A record-breaking amount of people are set to be targeted as a result of this single action, an incredible 24,583 in total.

But while these US lawsuits generate huge amounts of anger among opponents, and perversely impress with their sheer scale, over in Europe they’re really showing how it’s done. Germany is the birth place of these pay-up-or-else schemes and with their huge experience they’re making the United States look like rank amateurs.

According to mind-boggling new data released by Internet industry association ECO and linked by Janko Roettgers, German ISPs are handing over the personal details of their subscribers to rightsholders at the frightening rate of 300,000 every month. That’s more than the United States has managed in total – ever.

ECO says that the letters, which demand anything up to $1700 to make legal action go away, coupled with rising availability of legal content, have caused a drop in unlawful file-sharing of some 20% since 2008.

These figures, ECO say, make the case for not adopting measures to force ISPs to block file-sharing sites, measures which they say require “deep intervention” into the basic rights of the population.

“Blocking methods, such as those planned and advertised by the European Commission last week at the e> G8 Forum in Paris are unnecessary,” ECO said in a statement.

“First, there are many more legal and user-friendly products available now than several years ago. On the other hand, this shows a consistent approach on illegal downloads without resorting to blocking,” they continue.

However, ECO’s Oliver Süme notes that the cash demands levied by rightsholders are sometimes excessive, and a simple telling-off could achieve a useful effect.

“In most cases, a warning letter would be enough,” said Süme. “It does not always have to be a demand for several hundred euros.”

While rightsholders are making huge amounts from these settlement schemes from increasing numbers of threatening letters sent, and organizations like ECO are reporting drops in illicit sharing as a result, that’s not necessarily the full picture.

The letters are only sent out to Internet subscribers using P2P services to obtain unauthorized content, and it is unclear how many users have switched to untraceable services, such as cyberlockers, or are now taking measures to conceal their identities.

What is clear though is that if site blocking measures are introduced, file-sharing volumes will be hit, at least in the short-term. The effect of that is that fewer people will sitting ducks for these settlement letters, which have become a useful source of revenue for rightsholders. For some, reduced piracy could mean reduced revenue.

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