Cyberlocker Burden of Proof Should Be Reversed, Anti-Piracy Group Says

An anti-piracy group say they have monitored decreased usage of cyberlockers that withdrew their rewards programs in the wake of the Megaupload shutdown and increases for those that maintained them. What is required now, the Hollywood-backed group says, is a "burden of proof reversal" which would require hosts to prove that their businesses are not built on piracy, or face being held liable.

As previously reported, the Megaupload shutdown sent shockwaves right around the world and prompted a huge rethink by many cyberlocker file-hosting services.

The Megaupload indictment focused on several issues including alleged payments of cash rewards to known uploaders of infringing material. This prompted some rival services to cancel their affiliate/reward programs altogether and even end 3rd party downloads (Note: Fileserve have since re-enabled sharing).

Last week, TorrentFreak noted that traffic to many rival sites had increased following Megaupload’s demise – including sites like RapidShare that have no rewards program.

Today, however, German anti-piracy outfit GVU said that sites that have removed their rewards programs are now on a downward trend, while those that have maintained them are doing better than ever before.

GVU, which carried out the investigation preceding the record-setting raids on Kino.to last year, note that some linking sites are now removing links to sites that have no rewards programs and replacing them with those that do. The existence of rewards, the group suggests, means that more content is posted, ensuring traffic – and revenue – for both the linking sites and cyberlockers.

While it is fair to say that in some instances the existence of rewards can encourage infringement, GVU are now using this background to call for a review of cyberlocker and hosting provider liability, and are calling for a “reverse burden of proof” to be applied.

“In Germany, Service Providers are (at first) not liable for copyright infringements in content which is uploaded by third persons,” Otto Freiherr Grote of the Wilde Beuger & Solmecke law firm told TorrentFreak this morning.

“But the GVU now demands a reversal of this principle, at least for those filehosters which reward uploaders for uploading very popular files,” Grote adds.

GVU Director Dr. Matthias Leonardy says that while there is authorized content being stored and delivered by hosting services, much of the mass volume consists of unauthorized movies, TV shows and games, and it is this content that draws the bulk of the traffic and generates the revenue.

“Therefore, a file hosting provider must be aware that it promotes this through commission payments to those uploading pirated copies,” Leonardy notes.

On this basis, what Leonardy wants is a review of liability for those file-hosting services offering rewards programs.

It should not be the responsibility of rightsholders and authorities to show that such programs are being abused by infringers [such as is being claimed in the Megaupload indictment], Leornardy says, but the opposite – cyberlockers should be forced to prove that their businesses aren’t based on piracy in order to avoid liability. How this can be achieved remains to be seen.

The German legal system is no stranger to these apparent reverse burdens of proof when it comes to file-sharing cases. Domestic Internet users are responsible for infringements that happened via their accounts, whether they carried them out or not.

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