Anti-Piracy Outfit’s Business Model On Life-Support

Swiss anti-piracy outfit Logistep has been travelling around Europe, threatening and bullying P2P users in Germany, Britain, France, Italy and anywhere else where the courts will allow them to operate. File-sharers have had enough and now - at long last - so have the courts.

Here at TorrentFreak we have covered the actions of Swiss anti-piracy outfit Logistep many, many times. As with the infamous Dream Pinball affair, their business model is pretty much the same across the board. They work together with media companies such as Zuxxez, Techland and Peppermint Jam. They then monitor P2P networks with their Harry Potter-style magic software which supposedly gathers forensic quality information about possible copyright breaches. This information is then passed to a firm of lawyers in the target country who use this flawed information to convince the courts to force ISP’s to reveal the identities of alleged infringers. Once they have this information they attempt to extort money from the accused, warning them unless they pay up hundreds of euros or pounds (in some cases for the alleged sharing of ONE song), they will be taken to court and forced to pay, with the implication that costs would go much higher.

We are delighted to reveal that Logistep’s European tour is not running as smoothly as they would like. Bullied file-sharers have stood up, made a noise and governments – and the Courts – are listening and taking strong action.

Italy

A few months ago, Peppermint Jam (a German record company) and Techland (a Polish videogame company) recruited Logistep to help them carry out a massive anti-P2P campaign in Italy. As usual, they offered guarantees to ISP’s of the accused that their monitoring software is flawless in its data gathering and using a relatively unknown law firm from northern Italy, sent out 3636 threatening letters to P2P users who they accused of breaching their copyrights.

Each recipient was sent a ‘pay up or else’ letter demanding around 330 € for the SINGLE downloaded song and a signed declaration that they would never download any copyrighted material ever again.

Many people got very scared by these demands and paid up, not realizing that paying up would be seen as a clear admission of guilt. However, as the news circulated, national media got involved and so did others – consumer and civil rights associations, up to and including the government.

On July 18th, Rome’s Law Court dealt a massive blow to the Logistep business model when it approved a petition by two important Italian ISP’s (Wind & Telecom Italia) to keep their customer’s personal data secret when approached by companies who tracked their customers using the Logistep software.

The Court decided that the Logistep software violated the privacy of those monitored so the information cannot be used in a lawsuit. In Italy, it is only permissible to breach the privacy of electronic communications in extremely important cases. P2P file-sharing, it has been decided, is not important enough to be included.

According to privacy laws, a private citizen or a company can only harvest personal information to defend their rights in Court and this is only allowed if the harvesting has been done in a legitimate way and if the contender (in this case Peppermint Jam and Techland) have already succeeded in obtaining the data. Clearly in these cases, they had not obtained all of the information as they were requesting some from the ISP’s.

This is a major defeat for those who attempt to enforce copyright in Italy. The Court appears to have established that those who conduct private investigations on P2P networks are doing so illegally and have no legal standing to demand customers private information from their ISPs. If they cannot get the information from ISPs, this means they have no address to send their threatening letters to. No threatening letter means no-one is bullied into paying up extortionate amounts of money whilst being denied a fair hearing.

France

A press release dated 7 July 2007 brought the good news to French P2P users accused of downloading the ‘Call of Juarez’ from Polish publisher ‘Techland’. Through their Parisian lawyer, Techland managed to obtain the names and home addresses of those it accused and sent out their usual threatening letters, this time demanding 400 € to leave their victims alone.

However, after complaints by lawyers and French ISPs, the orders which made it possible for Techland to obtain P2P users identities and home addresses were withdrawn. Essentially, France agrees with the Italian stance that electronic privacy is far more important than anti-piracy activities.

According to the press release, “The processing of data in personal matter relating to suspected infringements or real supposes that a preliminary authorization of the CNIL (Data-processing National Commission and Freedom) is necessary.” Techland did not gain such approval to monitor French internet users.

Additionally, it appears the Court was not happy that citizens were not allowed to exercise their rights as the French legal system allows as they were denied “a contradictory procedure making it possible all the interested parties to be represented in front of the judge within the framework of the use of a peer to peer software”. In other words, people were denied a fair trial but for those who have already paid their seemingly illegal 400 € fine, all is not lost. The cancellation of the orders for Techland to obtain private information means that the accused can now exercise their legal rights to a proper hearing with the possibility of getting their money back.

In future, any businesses or individuals wishing to breach standard privacy laws to monitor file-sharers on the internet, must first get their activities sanctioned by a judge.

UK

Although there has been no comprehensive legal review of Logistep’s actions in the UK, if they continue along the same road, it’s just a matter of time. According to a user on Slyck Forums, the Government-run and highly respected UK Trading Standards has declared claims against UK citizens as “very shakey” as lawyers “offer no evidence that the game was ever on your hard drive” and they accept that “there is no proof that you, or your computer were involved in offering the game for download.” Without such critical evidence, it’s staggering that lawyers have the nerve to even accuse people and clearly, a Court case is the very last thing they want – that’s why they rely on the bullying tactics.

The German courts have had enough of Logistep and their partners, as have the Italians and the French. With UK Trading Standards stating that cases against UK citizens are ‘very shakey’, things are looking bad for the Logistep business model.

Add to that the statement last week from the Advocate General to the European Court of Justice declaring that EU law does not allow Internet Service Providers to be forced to reveal the personal details of people accused of file sharing, it seems defeat for Logistep and their partners may be just around the corner.

We would like to thank Max Marino for his invaluable input to the Italian section

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