When the RIAA embarked on its file-sharing settlement letter campaign last decade it unwittingly created a monster. Although the music industry group discontinued its actions in this field some time ago, dozens of other companies – notably in the porn business – followed in their footsteps.
The exact figures aren’t clear, but several hundred thousands individuals have been pursued for cash settlements for file-sharing in the United States and around Europe the problem is even worse. Germany has been hit by the trolls particularly hard, and it is from there that a new horror story is developing.
In a statement on its website the Urmann law firm explains that a large number of the file-sharing cases it is involved in end in settlements, a situation that is “often more useful than going through the courts.”
However, the company says that if necessary it will go to court to get justice for its clients, but there are things it can do to persuade stubborn individuals to pay up instead of having a hearing.
Starting September 1st, Urmann says it will begin publishing the personal details of Internet account holders it claims have violated their clients’ copyrights. The exact number is unknown, but Urmann previously claimed to have the identities of 150,000 individuals.
According to comments made by the law firm to Der Spiegel, the bulk of the firm’s clients aren’t record label owners either – they’re sellers of German hardcore pornography.
But the worst is yet to come. According to comments an Urmann insider made to Wochenblatt, the law firm is planning to target the most vulnerable people first – those with IP addresses registered to churches, police stations and – quite unbelievably – the embassies of Arab countries.
Urmann insists that it is completely entitled to take this action because the law is on its side. The company is leaning on a 2007 Federal Constitutional Court ruling that deemed it legal for law firms to publish the names of their clients’ opponents in order to advertise their services. However, there is some debate if the ruling applies since it was targeted at commercial opponents, not regular citizens.
Bernd Schlömer of the German Pirate Party describes the law firm’s threats to undermine the privacy rights of individuals as “shocking” and says that Urmann’s actions could be construed as “legal coercion.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the loose-knit activist collective Anonymous are also unhappy and are hinting at action of their own.
“A law firm has announced that shortly it will publish a so-called enemies list on the web,” the group said in an announcement.
“Once the list of Urmann and colleagues is online, we will take care of it!”
Urmann courted controversy last year when it started an auction to sell the unpaid settlements of 70,000 alleged file-sharers to the highest bidder.