Finnish Government Investigates as Tens of Thousands Face Piracy ‘Fines’

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The Finnish government will launch an investigation after it was revealed that tens of thousands of citizens are facing demands for cash settlements for alleged piracy offenses. With both police and parliament now involved, the Ministry of Education and Culture says that copyright legislation is not designed for the public to be "milked".

So-called copyright trolling is a plague sweeping across the world and there seems to be very little anyone can do to stop it. Claiming that their rights have been infringed, copyright holders head to court to demand the identities of subscribers behind IP addresses and from there they begin their threats.

One of the more recent countries to be hit with the phenomenon is Finland, where the practice seriously got underway in 2014 and escalated in 2015.

It’s now emerged that tens of thousands of citizens are likely to be caught up in a new dragnet following their alleged sharing of movies and TV shows.

A copy of a letter recently sent to an Internet subscriber and obtained by Helsingin Sanomat reveals a demand for 2,200 euros relating to the downloading of a TV show. But this single letter is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last year a local court dealt with around 200 cases that concluded with copyright holders being granted permission to obtain the identities of between hundreds and thousands of individuals said to have infringed their rights.

HS estimates that as many as 60,000 people could be in line to receive cash demands similar to the one detailed above. They come from Hedman Partners, the Helsinki law firm that’s been involved in copyright trolling cases in Finland for the past couple of years.

Based on a 2,200 euro settlement, the cash involved is potentially enormous. For every hundred cases settled, the law firm reportedly pockets 130,000 euros for “monitoring costs”, with 90,000 euros going to the rightsholders.

Due to the scale of the problem, complaints from letter recipients are now being reported to various local authorities. After receiving dozens of complaints from bewildered Internet account holders, police were forced to issue a statement last Friday.

“Based on notification of data there is no reason to suspect a crime. The mere lack of clarity associated with the invoice-based letter, for example, does not prove the crime of fraud or an intention to deliberate deceive,” said Detective Chief Inspector Taija Kostamo.

Kostamo also noted that since the dispute is one based in civil law, the police will not be getting involved in any investigation.

“The police are not the competent authority to solve this issue,” he said, adding that citizens should take steps to secure their Wi-Fi networks to avoid third-party intrusions.

With the police backing away from any involvement, expectations have now fallen on the government to tackle the problem. Thankfully for those involved, the Ministry of Education and Culture appears to be taking the matter seriously and has promised an investigation.

“It is not intended that our legislation should be used for milking [the public],” said ‎Government Counsellor Anna Vuopala.

“It seems that it is appropriate for the Ministry to convene the parties involved in order to find out whether the law is being complied with in all respects,” she said.

Local copyright law obliges ISPs to hand over account holders’ names if copyrighted content has been shared without permission to a “significant degree.” There is now some debate over whether the sharing of a movie or TV show meets that threshold.

With a meeting planned for February, the issue has now attracted the attention of parliament. HS reports that various Members of Parliament are looking into the matter to clarify the position and look at what can be done to deal with the problems raised.

The situation emerging in Finland is a prime example of what happens when large numbers of people are targeted at once. While a few hundred cases might fly somewhat under the radar and fade away relatively quickly, tens of thousands aren’t going to be brushed under the carpet. Trolling has now become a national issue, with all of the consequences that will entail.

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