Big Four Music Labels Hire Students To Chase File-Sharers

As the music labels of the RIAA prepare to launch their six-strikes initiative in the United States, elsewhere in the world their strategies are somewhat different. In Europe, labels including EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner are pumping money into an anti-piracy company who do everything from cyberlocker takedowns to the dirtiest of all anti-piracy tactics - extracting cash settlements from Internet users. According to an insider, the company employees dozens of students as pirate hunters.

While organizations such as IFPI have somewhat of a global plan for dealing with online piracy, in recent times it’s become evident that their member companies will pursue local strategies taking both the law – and what they can get away with politically – into consideration.

As we know, in the United States the labels will shortly go down the warning notice route, following in the footsteps of countries such as New Zealand and France. Elsewhere, however, the situation is quite different.

Due to legal developments in Germany in recent years, it has become easy to extract money from alleged file-sharers by threatening to sue, something the major labels aren’t averse to getting involved in.

One of the anti-piracy companies that EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner are putting money into for this purpose is proMedia. This Hamburg-based company has an exclusive contract to hunt down copyright infringements on behalf of the IFPI-affiliated BVMI industry group, of which the above-mentioned labels are members.

The operations of these anti-piracy companies are usually shrouded in secrecy, but on condition of anonymity an insider has been speaking out about his work hunting pirates at proMedia. The individual, referred to only as ‘Peter’, told SpiegelOnline that he has worked for the company for four years, tracking down copyright infringements on behalf of the big labels.

Peter, a musician and student teacher, works in proMedia’s Hamburg office, but he is not alone. According to the 26-year-old, proMedia employs a total of 35 students in a range of anti-piracy roles.

In addition to using Google to search forums, blogs and cyberlockers for infringements, Peter and his colleagues also engage in the most controversial anti-piracy work – tracking down file-sharers on P2P networks such as BitTorrent in order to extract cash settlements from them.

The labels’ aggressive stance towards infringement is well-known, so file-sharers shouldn’t be surprised if they’re targeted, Peter says. “If someone is caught, it’s his own fault,” he explains.

According to Spiegel, the BVMI reports that it closed (read: settled or gave up on) 13,562 civil cases on behalf of the labels in 2008 alone (more recent data was not provided). As revealed by an earlier TorrentFreak investigation, there is big money to be made from these settlements. Universal, Warner and Universal look for around 1,200 euros per time, with Sony requesting around 950 euros.

Of course, the entire system is widely hated by just about everyone not making money from it, largely because of what is perceived as a bullying and disproportionate response to individuals downloading a few songs. But Peter insists that this is still theft and comparable to shoplifting.

“The only difference is that songs are apparently not perceived by many as a valuable commodity and everyone generally thinks they should be freely accessible,” he says.

As a musician, Peter says he has also been personally hit by piracy. After selling an album of his band’s music after concerts, to his annoyance even his friends were copying his music. Peter’s not any more pleased with the Pirate Party either, noting that their plans for the revision of copyright law would deprive musicians of income.

“I do not think much of the politics of the pirates,” says Peter. “As a musician myself, I feel degraded by them.”

And yet, like so many in the anti-piracy business, Peter was once on the other side of the fence.

“Anyone who claims to have never downloaded something is lying,” he concludes.

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