Early June, City of London Police informed TorrentFreak that they had begun targeting sites that provide access to unauthorized content for “criminal gain.”
The ongoing initiative is part of a collaboration with Hollywood studios represented by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and the major recording labels of the BPI. Many torrent sites received letters in which they were warned they were breaking the law. Shutting down, the letters implied, would be the safest course of action.
“We have grounds to suspect that as owners and/or operators of the XXXXX website, you are committing the offense of communication to the public under s.107(2A) of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 (“CDPA”). Section 107(2A) is an indictable offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment,” the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau warned.
At the end of June the UK government announced the formation of a new intellectual property crime unit to launch in September with £2.5 of public funding. It then became clear that the new unit at City of London Police and the threats to torrent sites were closely connected.
To our knowledge only a couple of sites have actually shut down after receiving a police letter. Admins of other sites discussed the threats with TorrentFreak on condition of anonymity but we get the impression that for them it will be business as usual next month.
The Intellectual Property Crime Unit issued threats to sites not just in the UK but all over the world and it’s expected that they will coordinate with organizations such as Europol and Interpol to an attempt to shut them down.
Of course, the police won’t be initiating these actions on their own. They are working closely with record labels and movie studios who are providing the initial guidance and intelligence. While this is nothing particularly new, it seems that the new unit could be the missing link on information sharing absent for almost a decade.
“The introduction of a specialist team in the City of London police to deal with online IP crime provides the focus to deliver the information sharing first envisaged in the Enterprise Act 2002,” intellectual property law litigator Iain Connor told UK law firm Pinsent Masons.
Up until 2002, law enforcement agencies had limited ability to share information for use in civil cases, Connor says, but even since then copyright cases have not been a police priority. He points out that the prosecution of SurfTheChannel admin Anton Vickerman was a private prosecution brought by the studios, but that dynamic will change with the introduction of the new unit.
“The new IP crime unit provides rights holders with the opportunity to refer intelligence on criminal activity to the authorities safe in the knowledge that action will be taken and that when a prosecution is secured, that prosecution can be used to obtain financial recovery through the civil courts,” Connor said.
Previously, private organizations like FACT have been accused of acting like the police, even though they have no formal official powers. It seems likely that with the advent of the new unit in September, FACT and the BPI will be able to call on the police to carry out actions on their behalf, almost as if they were an extension of their own organizations.
Earlier legal analysis on the threats to torrent sites is available here.