Rights holders often take extreme measures to combat piracy, but that a Government institution creates a ‘pirate’ honeypot is quite exceptional. In Portugal, a collaboration between a Ministry of Culture affiliated organization and the local music industry has resulted in a protocol that calls for such a honeypot, in order to shame, scare and threaten those who download music without authorization.
Among file-sharers the term ‘honeypots’ is used to describe sites and services that are specifically set up to lure people into downloading copyrighted files. The label is often applied to suspicious looking sites, but proof of the existence of live honeypots is never provided.
People have alleged that some of the pay-up-or-else lawsuits against BitTorrent users came in part from torrents that were uploaded or seeded by the copyright holders themselves, but this hasn’t been proven either.
This does not mean that honeypots are a myth. Indeed, in Portugal their existence is now confirmed, as a previously held back agreement between the Portuguese Phonographic Association (AFP) and the General Inspection of Cultural Activities (IGAC) reveals. This agreement is of special interest, since the latter organization falls under the Ministry of Culture.
The protocol, which was announced a few weeks ago, was initially framed as an attempt to combat piracy under which AFP would provide ‘anti-piracy’ training to IGAC inspection officers. However, the fact that the actual text of the agreement was never publicized led the Portuguese Pirate Party to believe that something more was going on.
And they were right.
After filing a complaint with the authorities, the protocol was finally released by IGAC, as they are required to do by law. The Pirate Party believes that it was kept a secret for a reason, and after their analysis of the contents this suspicion was strengthened.
Among other things, the agreement promotes a honeypot scheme where the music industry will grant the Government organization the right to upload tracks to file-sharing networks. These ‘traps’ will then be used to collect the IP-addresses of Portuguese file-sharers.
The file-sharers who are caught by this honeypot scheme can expect a notification from their Internet provider, which may eventually lead to a disconnection due to a breach of the terms of service. The sad part about this, is that the evidence that the authorities gather is not very solid.
In the agreement it’s stated that IGAC will rely on screenshots to prove which unauthorized material people are sharing. A rather simplistic and easy to forge method of evidence collection, The Pirate Party commented in their analysis. To prove their point, the Pirates offer a simple PHP script that can generate forged evidence on the fly.
Towards the end of the agreement, it is revealed that the main purpose of the collaboration is to influence public opinion through the media.
“The IGAC and the AFP agreed that the results obtained under this Protocol shall be disseminated to the media, particularly on the enforcement actions taken, the number and type of complaints, the number of notifications sent to ISP’s and other important aspects to achieve the objectives of this Protocol,” it reads.
According to the Pirate Party the Ministry of Culture’s IGAC is acting undemocratically and possibly illegally too, while putting the interests of a few music labels before the rights of individual citizens.