Copyright Trolls Abandon Sweden in a Blaze of Bad Publicity

A legal campaign that promised to hit file-sharers with demands for cash has been abandoned in Sweden. The law firm at the heart of the plan says that it effectively misjudged the gap between public opinion and the fact that file-sharing is illegal under local law. Strangely, it also claims victory.

trollsignIn the US, Europe, and Canada, copyright holders have been teaming up with piracy monitoring firms to develop a new flow of revenue. Together they track down alleged pirates and hit them with a demand for cash settlement – or else.

This so-called ‘copyright-trolling’ hit Sweden earlier this year. An organization calling itself Spridningskollen (Distribution Check) headed up by law firm Gothia Law, said its new initiative would save the entertainment industries and educate the masses.

“One can compare it to a speed camera. In the same way that a speed camera only records those who drive too fast, only those Internet users who share copyrighted material without permission are logged,” said spokesman Gordon Odenbark.

Those ‘speeding fines’ were set at around $250 but backed up by threats that they would increase if file-sharers were uncooperative. Predictably there was a huge backlash, both among the public and in the media, but few expected the announcement that came yesterday.

“Gothia Law, who on behalf of rights holders in the film and television industry created Distribution Check, is now ending its involvement in the file sharing issue,” the firm said.

“In a short time, Distribution Check has given rise to criticism but also a decline in illegal file sharing. This without a single collection letter being sent out.”

Noting that in a short time the anti-piracy campaign had generated intense debate, the law firm also went on to claim that it had been a success.

“Knowledge of an individual’s legal responsibility is higher today than it was before the initiative was launched. It also established that the method to address a claim against a person who held a particular IP address through which copyrighted materials were distributed illegally, is in full compliance with both Swedish and European legislation,” the company added.

The claim that the campaign had somehow achieved its aims is somewhat weak, especially when one considers the legal and administrative costs that have been accrued in what was a sizeable operation.

That is further compounded by the fact that no letters being sent out means that a) all the threats and promises were hollow and b) zero revenue was generated. Perhaps worse still, those threats were made by a law firm that now has to deal with damage to its reputation among both its clients and the general public.

“The polarized debate focused on how to act to avoid the Swedish law. Many hold the belief that it is socially acceptable to withhold the truth in order to escape the penalty for a criminal act, which also seriously damages the cultural sector,” Gothia said.

“As legislation and public opinion differs in a significant way, Gothia Law has now ended its involvement in the file-sharing issue.”

It is quite something for a law firm to state that it’s backed out of a project because people have no respect for the law. Then again, it’s not unusual for law firms to get involved in this type of work only to find that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Still, the company signs off with its successes, which were apparently achieved in just two months and without sending out a single letter.

“The initiative has meant a certain success for rights holders who will continue to protect their own interests in the file-sharing issue. Not only has the issue risen on the agenda, during the time that has passed since the initiative was launched, illegal downloading in Sweden also declined,” Gothia said.

While it’s reportedly true that file-sharing in Sweden is on the decline, it seems unlikely that this campaign had much of an effect on that since its launch in September. Nevertheless, Gothia insists that it did.

“The decline in sharing of the 150 titles represented by Distribution Check has been greater than the overall decline. For some titles, the download has fallen by 17 percent,” the company concludes.

It’s difficult to see the announcement as anything less than a damage limitation exercise but for local ISP Bahnhof, the news is still welcome. Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung has been Distribution Check’s most vocal critic and through his company has been a thorn in the side of the project. Now it’s all over, people can relax again.

“This means that ordinary families do not have to come home to mysterious invoices that you have to think about whether to pay or not,” Karlung says.

“Hopefully this means that the copyright industry will seriously leave the 90s behind and put their resources into better experiences instead, such as Netflix and Spotify have done.”

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