In response to millions of Internet users sharing copies of movies using systems including BitTorrent, some companies have transformed this unlicensed sharing into a part of their business. Tracking IP addresses of sharers in swarms, this information is used to file lawsuits that demand the personal details of alleged pirates. From there, they are pressured into paying cash settlements of between hundreds and thousands of dollars.
These mass defendant lawsuits have hit dozens of countries around the world, with those in the US perhaps the most reported on. However, Europe is also a hotbed of litigation and in recent years Sweden has emerged as one of the most important battlegrounds. Thus far in 2020, that position remains unchanged.
ISP Bahnhof: “Blackmail Activity” is Still Flourishing
Since 2016, local ISP Bahnhof has dedicated resources to not only fight but also shine a light on ‘copyright-trolls’ in Sweden. With most other ISPs staying silent on the issue, Bahnhof diligently scours legal records in order to keep its customers and the broader public informed. The company has just published its report for 2020 and even with six weeks to go before the year concludes, the stats paint an important picture.
“Judging by this year’s court documents, the blackmail activity has lived and flourished just as in previous years, and has not slowed down or stopped as large parts of the rest of society have been forced to do this year,” Bahnhof reports, referencing the coronavirus pandemic.
“To date, 118 applications for information injunctions have been received by the Patent and Market Court from copyright holders who wish to request information about Internet users who are alleged to have shared files. Each application can in turn include anything from 20 up to several thousand Internet users.”
Personal Details Behind More Than 42,000 IP Addresses Sought
With 118 applications thus far in 2020, that is very nearly one demand for information every three days. However, it is the volume of IP addresses (one IP address has the potential to identify one subscriber) per application that is perhaps the most important factor.
For example, two applications filed on January 7 (both by law firm Next Advokater on behalf of Germany company Chrystalis Entertainment) requested the personal details behind 46 and 59 IP addresses respectively. However, another filed just a few days later by NJORD Law demanded information behind 1609 IP addresses on behalf of US adult company MG Premium Ltd.
Indeed, in 2020 law firms have demanded the personal details of up to 2,177 subscribers in a single application.
According to Bahnhof’s research, this means that thus far in 2020, the Patent and Market Court in Sweden has received demands to hand over the personal information behind 42,689 IP addresses, which could potentially mean the same number of subscribers having their personal details handed over.
For comparison, 49 separate court cases were filed in 2018 requesting ISPs to disclose the personal details of the account holders behind 35,711 IP addresses. During 2019, a total of 140 new applications were submitted to the Patent and Market Court, together targeting 60,368 IP addresses.
The Most ‘Vulnerable’ ISP is Telia
Bahnhof’s database of applications reveals some interesting information, including the ISP most vulnerable to having requests made against it for subscribers’ personal details. While other ISPs including Com Hem, Telenor, and Hi3G Access were targeted in 2020, out of the 42,689 IP addresses listed in all applications, 30,997 were disclosed by telecoms company Telia. But why?
“Telia is the largest ISP, and they also retain data for long periods of time,” Bahnhof’s Carolina Lindahl informs TorrentFreak.
“They therefore have a lot to offer so to speak, even if the requests concern IP-data from a few months back.”
The big contrast here is with Bahnhof itself, which has taken measures to ensure that its own customers aren’t caught up in the copyright settlement dragnet by limiting what information it stores and for how long.
“Bahnhof customers have been completely spared from this type of extortion letter because, in accordance with EU regulations, we have limited our storage and disclosure of privacy-sensitive customer data to what is absolutely necessary for law enforcement agencies in the event of serious crime,” the company says.
Copyright Trolls Are Only Interested in Movies
In common in other regions of the world where this type of legal action is prevalent, the companies engaged in it in Sweden are currently only interested in tracking down people who share movies. According to Carolina Lindahl, the vast majority of the disclosure requests relate to pornographic content, a situation that’s mirrored in the United States.
It’s unclear whether the Patent and Market Court has denied any requests for information in 2020 but Bahnhof says that most cases appear to be handled very quickly and without any scrutiny whatsoever.
“Some of these requests get a court ruling (where the copyright holder is granted access to the personal data behind the IP-addresses that are attached to that particular request) within one day. Since our IPRED copyright law states that probable cause for copyright infringement is enough to grant access to personal data, the court doesn’t bother examining any of the requests closely,” Lindahl concludes.