Privacy Ruling Won’t Save Large Scale File-Sharers

This week a ruling from Switzerland's Federal Court said that an anti-piracy company broke privacy laws when they monitored file-sharers and then used the collected data to extract payments from alleged infringers. While some may think this gives a green light to file-sharers, those sharing large amounts of media should think again - the police might just start showing an interest.

This week an important ruling was handed down by the Swiss Federal Court. The majority of a panel of five judges decided that anti-piracy company Logistep breached Switzerland’s strict privacy laws when it monitored and gathered information on file-sharers.

The ruling, which is final and cannot be appealed, made clear that it is illegal to collect IP addresses in Switzerland with the aim of later filing a lawsuit. While Logistep said that this would make the country a safe-haven for pirates, things may not be quite as safe as some people imagine.

While obtaining evidence for civil lawsuits will be hugely problematic for private companies, the state can still take action against file-sharers. The police in Europe are only usually interested in file-sharers if they are deemed to be pirating media on a commercial scale or are committing other criminal offenses, and Switzerland is no different.

Just this week, Swiss police closed in on a woman who made available thousands of music tracks on the Internet. The 21 year-old is suspected of sharing more than 3,100 music tracks without the permission of copyright holders.

According to the police, the woman said that she had no commercial intentions and only downloaded the songs for her own personal use. However, the woman did not know that as well as just downloading music, by default her (unnamed) file-sharing software was also making the tracks available for upload.

As we’ve seen in recent cases in Sweden, sharing a few thousand tracks is certainly enough to get the authorities to take action – if, of course, they are pushed in the right direction by the likes of the IFPI in the first place.

Yet again, and in common with similar Swedish cases, this woman will have been using a ‘shared folder’ type application, possibly Direct Connect but more likely something like LimeWire or Bearshare. As we’ve pointed out here a dozen times on TorrentFreak, people using this type of software to share large quantities of music are a sitting duck for file-sharing investigators.

In the music sector piracy investigators aren’t interested in petty file-sharers, they want to be able to prove to the police that their target is big-time and worth pursuing with state resources. By sharing their entire music collections in these type of programs – often many thousands of tracks at a time – people are playing with fire.

People are drawn to ‘shared-folder’ P2P programs like LimeWire because they are easy to operate, but as illustrated above, that ease of use can come at a price. On the other hand (and as pointed out earlier by frustrated Swedish authorities), proving large scale infringement against a regular BitTorrent user is a much more complicated task, so much so that there have been no arrests to date. BitTorrent may have a steeper learning curve, but many will consider it to be worth it.

As anti-piracy groups digest what has happened in Switzerland this week, the focus may well shift away from private cases but anti-piracy actions won’t go away. Groups such as IFPI will not give in, but instead change the way they operate. Rather than chase file-sharers through the courts themselves, they will probably identify large scale infringers and get the police to do their work for them.

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