Two File-Sharers Fined Total of $725,000, Others Asked To Pay Thousands

Two long-standing file-sharing cases have just been concluded and both defendants have been hit with extraordinarily harsh punishments. A 36-year-old received a 4 month jail sentence and a fine equivalent to $433,000, and a 22-year-old received a fine of $291,600. Meanwhile, the anti-piracy group behind the action is sending "pay-up-or-else" letters to Internet subscribers, and not always getting it right.

While there is nothing inherently ‘unsafe’ about the Direct Connect file-sharing client when compared to similar systems, users often choose to share their entire media libraries with the world, all at once, and in the same place. In the statistically unlikely event an anti-piracy company is watching, demonstrating massive multiple infringement then becomes fairly easy, and a breeze compared to doing the same against BitTorrent users.

Two individuals from Finland have just learned this the hard way. Their cases, relating to offenses carried out in 2007 when they operated a pair of Direct Connect hubs, have just been concluded and to say their punishments are harsh is an understatement.

A 36-year-old man was sentence to four months in prison accompanied by a huge 326,734 euro ($432,955) rightsholder compensation bill, and a 22-year-old received one of 220,077 euros ($291,625). Both appear to have been treated in court as file-sharing site operators (the former stood accused of operating a 130TB hub) even though setting up and managing a Direct Connect hub requires no website and is easy as running a piece of software on a home machine.

The original complaint against the men was brought by the Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Center (CIAPC). Known locally as TTVK, this anti-piracy group is currently trying to make life difficult for The Pirate Bay.

But tracking large-scale file-sharers and hounding huge torrent site operators is not the only anti-piracy technique currently being employed by CIAPC. According to a MikroPC report (Finnish), they are also pursuing the average Internet user for cash settlements too, sometimes in error.

One individual told the site that his wife had received a letter from CIAPC stating that she had been caught sharing 5,000 songs online and was being given two options – settle for cash or face the case going to court. Upon investigation, however, the allegation proved problematic.

The IP address identified by CIAPC had been passed to the supposed infringer’s ISP, which by coincidence happened to be Elisa, the service provider that was recently forced by CIAPC to block The Pirate Bay. Elisa used their databases to match the IP address to a subscriber, but something went wrong. One theory is that the IP address had been recently transferred to a new customer, but in any event the wrong person was issued with a cash demand.

CIAPC’s Executive Director, Antti Kotilainen, insists that this type of error is rare.

“In 99 per cent of cases, people acknowledge on receipt of the letter that they have distributed files illegally. If there is uncertainty the issue is investigated,” he explains.

Kotilainen says that cash settlement letters are only sent out to around 100 Internet users per year but the settlement demands can be huge, ranging from a few thousand euros to tens of thousands. Larger cases are handed to the police and as demonstrated by the cases of the two men above, although rare the punishments can be extremely harsh.

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