No matter if there are pop-up and pop-under adverts on every page, or a single discreet button where someone can pledge a five dollar donation, thousands of file-sharing related sites need a mechanism by which to convert money into spendable funds.
For many the payment processor – PayPal and other similar services – provide their financial lifeline. After years of ignoring this Achilles’ heel, anti-piracy companies are taking steps to exploit this weakness and this week another group announced their plans – and they’re controversial to say the least.
“We are in talks with the Dutch payment providers and are working towards partnerships,” says Tim Kuik, chief of anti-piracy outfit BREIN.
Kuik says that by offering payment solutions to file-sharing sites, services such as PayPal are doing business with unlawful entities and therefore contributing to their ‘crimes’.
The idea isn’t new. In the United States the forthcoming PROTECT IP Act will oblige payment processors to stop doing business with “rogue sites” and in the UK the IFPI have similar but more private deals in the pipeline.
With BREIN, the ball is already rolling. The Hollywood-funded group has written to an unnamed selection of payment processors seeking cooperation with the issue in hand – strangling the finances of sites that BREIN, not a court, deem to be illegal.
But BREIN also sees the payment processors as potentially useful in another highly controversial area.
“We are often faced with services that operate anonymously and have given their hosting provider false information,” Kuik said. “We suspect that the payment providers have a good track, because the money they send has to go somewhere.”
Of course, BREIN have a job to do and will do whatever they can to achieve their goals, but when Kuik elaborated further in a discussion with Future of Copyright this week, it became clear that controversy is not something the group shies away from.
“We have requested several payment providers to give BREIN the name and address of illegal file sharing sites,” Kuik explained.
Now, BREIN hasn’t been to court on order to obtain specific permission to obtain this data, yet Kuik says that the payment processors can simply hand over the private details of account owners to his company. Unsurprisingly, the targets of BREIN’s affections aren’t yet falling over themselves to comply.
“The payment providers do not seem very willing to cooperate yet, but are deliberating on a response,” says Kuik. But he says they better respond positively – the pleasantries won’t last forever.
“If there will be no response, BREIN will sue them and refer the matter to court,” he warns.
Arnoud Engelfriet, a lawyer with Ictrecht law firm, believes that the law could be on BREIN’s side.
“Dutch case law (in particular the Pessers/Lycos case) has held that in certain cases internet providers and other intermediaries are indeed required to hand over identifying information if a customer is likely committing a tort. A court intervention is not necessary according to our High Court,” he told TorrentFreak.
“The legal requirements are that it is without serious doubt that this customer is committing the tort, that releasing the identifying information is relevant for the case *and* that an evaluation of customer privacy versus the interests of the third party reveals ultimately that privacy must give way to those interests.
“For example, if I am a whistleblower, my privacy would be very important and my employer wouldn’t easily get my identifying information with this ruling,” Engelfriet adds.
“For banks and payment processors the same requirement would apply. They have to evaluate how likely it is that their customer is violating third party rights and that handing over this data is more important than protecting the privacy of their customers.”
But Engelfriet says that given the sensitivity that banks normally apply to customer details, he would be surprised if they handed over this information without a fight.
“Freely handing over details would set a big precedent for them: anyone with a complaint could demand customer information. E.g. you buy something on eBay and you feel duped, you would demand bank information. Besides, banks have big pockets so I’m not too worried,” Engelfriet concludes.
Kuik won’t say which payment processors he’s contacted thus far, but says that should BREIN sue them their identities will quickly become public.