Pirate Movie Privacy Case Set For The Supreme Court

Should copyright holders be allowed to get the identities of Internet users behind an IP-address for private prosecutions, or should that ability be left solely with the police? That's the key question behind a pivotal hit movie camcorder case which is set to move amid an unusual amount of secrecy to Norway's Supreme Court.

Released in 2008, Max Manus is a Norwegian World War II movie based on the real-life events of resistance fighter Max Manus. Created at a cost of NOK 55,000,000 it was the most expensive Norwegian film production to date.

Shortly after the movie’s 19th December release date an illicit copy of the movie appeared on the Internet. According to producer John M. Jacobsen the recording was made in an empty theater, prompting suspicions that a projectionist was involved.

“I think this is totally reprehensible, and I wish we knew who is behind it,” Jacobsen told Norwegian media. “Anyway we will go after those who have done this quite mercilessly. There are ways to track these things down.”

An investigation was immediately launched by the Filmkameratene studio, to be handled by the Simonsen law firm with notorious pirate hunter Espen Tøndel at the helm. Technicians went to work, systematically going through every copy of the movie sent out to find a match – that meant checking 103 analog and 20 digital copies.

Their detective work paid off. Simonsen said they had not only tracked the correct copy but also identified the IP-address from where the movie was first uploaded to the Internet. They took the information to the police but were notified that the case would not be a priority for them. Simonsen responded by taking the case to the courts.

Simonsen, a law firm which since 2006 had held a license to monitor alleged pirates and collect their IP-addresses, demanded that the ISP connected with the IP-address hand over the identity of the subscriber, something it had thus far refused to do. The request had the support of the Norwegian telecoms authorities which in this case made a special exception to the country’s Privacy Act, enabling the person’s identity to be handed to a group other than the police – if the court agreed.

On May 5th 2009, Simonsen received the decision from the court but the verdict was kept a secret from the public. Espen Tøndel said this was to prevent the possibility of evidence being spoiled. This lack of transparency caused an uproar, with thousands of Internet citizens demanding to know the verdict in this important case. Many argued that if there was evidence to be spoiled, it would’ve been spoiled by now.

Today in 2010, the verdict is still a mystery to the public, but at least one of the parties is disappointed with the court’s decision.

“I can confirm that the case is being appealed to the Supreme Court, but I can not confirm which of the parties has submitted the appeal, as that may indicate what the results were in the previous hearing,” said movie industry lawyer Rune Ljøstad.

The Supreme Court will now have to decide if it’s acceptable for privately owned companies with financial interests in the outcome of a case to be given the power to obtain the identity of an Internet subscriber behind an IP-address, whether or not they committed the alleged offense.

Despite the leak, Max Manus did incredibly well in Norway, breaking all records. Its 2009 theater run yielded almost NOK 200 million across 1.16 million tickets and the DVD sold 400,000 copies in the same year. From recording a loss in 2008, movie company Filmkameratene made a profit in 2009.

“There is a dramatic change for the better for us in 2009,” said producer Sveinung Golimo. “So we are not now concerned about the future.”

Privacy campaigners will look toward the forthcoming Supreme Court decision before sharing in his optimism.

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