This week it was reported that Njord Law, a prominent Danish law engaged in cash settlement demands against alleged BitTorrent pirates, is in serious trouble.
Working with middle-man licensing companies CMS and MIRCOM, which have connections to German-based BitTorrent tracking company MaverickEye and notorious international trolling operation Guardaley, the company demanded that their targets pay sums of money, often in excess of US$1,200, to make potential lawsuits disappear.
After hundreds of cases were kicked out of court, mainly due to CMS and MIRCOM having no standing to file a lawsuit, Njord Law and partner lawyer Jeppe Brogaard Clausen have now been charged with acting fraudulently. While both deny the allegations, the fallout in Denmark is so significant that leading anti-piracy group Rights Alliance is now voicing its own criticism of the companies’ business model.
“A Stain on the Fight Against Illegal Content”
It’s relatively rare for one anti-piracy group to criticize another but Rights Alliance chief Maria Fredenslund did just that Thursday, complaining that the CMS/MIRCOM/Njord business model is a “stain on the fight against illegal content”.
“We have never been behind the methods and approach that Njord Law Firm has taken in these cases. There has been no cooperation between us and them,” she told Berlingske.
Fredenslund has several concerns, including that the allegations of fraud will “cloud” the work of Rights Alliance and detract from the sustained effort the group has put in to reduce piracy levels in Denmark.
“We have not had any collaboration on the letters that Njord Law Firm has sent out. On the contrary, we have been out and publicly saying that we do not support it,” Fredenslund said.
Rights Alliance Prefers To Target Operators and Block Sites
Rights Alliance is engaged in a wide variety of anti-piracy measures, including the targeting of various torrent sites recently, something which has resulted in a number of arrests.
Back in 2016, Rights Alliance reported DanishBits, the country’s largest tracker, to the police and in October 2020 it shut down. Just this week further arrests were reported in connection with now-shuttered site Asgaard.
However, one of the anti-piracy group’s favorite strategies is site-blocking which Fredenslund believes is a more effective strategy than copyright-trolling.
“Our strategy is based on approaches that we know from many years of experience, and Denmark is known for having an effective blocking system. It is a long, tough move, but that hard work means that today we can see the fruits of the work we started ten years ago,” she added.
Unfortunately for Rights Alliance, however, copyright-trolling can influence pirates’ behavior in ways that have the potential to disrupt this disruption too.
Copyright Trolling is Undermining Anti-Piracy Group
With allegations of fraud in the air, Rights Alliance is keen to distance itself from the actions of Njord Law and its partners. Perhaps more importantly though, copyright-trolling operations don’t exist in a bubble and have the potential to drive pirates underground.
Speaking with local publication K-News, Fredenslund says that Rights Alliance doesn’t support the Njord model because after ten years of experience, they know that it has “no effect” on reducing piracy. However, while it may not drive down piracy rates, settlement schemes are causing pirates to hide their identities using anonymization tools.
Fredenslund doesn’t elaborate on why this is an issue for Rights Alliance (the group doesn’t target end-users anyway) but the implications are very clear. When consumers of pirated content sign up to a VPN or similar anonymization service, they are not only protected from copyright-trolling schemes but they can also evade Rights Alliance’s site-blocking measures too.
Copyright-Trolling and Site-Blocking Have Different Goals
At this point, it’s important to recognize the differences between the efforts of Rights Alliance and Njord Law and its partners. While Rights Alliance’s actions are designed to deter and prevent piracy in order to protect revenues, copyright-trolls view piracy as a money-making opportunity.
Indeed, the entire troll model requires piracy to exist, providing another source of revenue for often third-rate content that would otherwise have little commercial value. The issue of pirates hiding themselves using VPNs to avoid trolls then becomes a thorn in the side of efforts to block sites, effectively nullifying court injunctions obtained by Rights Alliance.
It seems then that copyright-troll schemes are not only ineffective but also undermine genuine efforts to bring piracy down to more manageable levels. Only time will tell whether the courts in Denmark and elsewhere are prepared to do something about them but it’s pretty clear that just for once, pirates and anti-pirates actually agree on something.