When the OiNK tracker was shutdown in 2007, a statement appeared on the site’s homepage. This time – and unusually for the UK – it would be the police investigating a file-sharing case, not some anti-piracy group flexing their muscles in civil action. But even now, months after OiNK was shutdown, no-one – including OiNK admin Alan Ellis – has been charged with anything.
Would OiNK users really become a target for the police, despite the presumed civil status of sharing music on P2P networks? If so, why?
Right from the start, there has been a concerted effort by various elements of the music industry to portray everyday citizens using OiNK – presumably including the likes of Trent Reznor – as hardened criminals out to ruin the industry. At the time, BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor called OiNK a “closed criminal network” and unfortunately this type of comment set the general tone for many follow up news articles.
In reality, OiNK offered no music of its own but was the venue of an unofficial virtual party, where a limited number of people listened to music without fees or charges, in a modern take on pirate radio – but with a twist. If people had some music to share with others then so much the better, they could bring it along, add it to the index (and that’s all OiNK was, an index) and everyone could listen, to see if they liked it too.
Of all things, it was certainly not about money and a large proportion of the members wouldn’t even have considered that sharing music would result in police knocking on the door, any more than as a result of them using YouTube. But knock they did.
Last week Cleveland Police arrested a user of OiNK in the Cheshire area, who was questioned and later released on police bail. It is alleged that the individual – a normal user of the site who has no previous involvement with the police and no criminal convictions – uploaded a solitary album in early 2007.
Furthermore, information suggests that the police will be arresting and interviewing more users in the course of this investigation but at this stage it is unclear exactly who they are targeting and why. A one-off album uploader seems an unlikely target, particularly as legally in the UK, the fact that the album was allegedly pre-released – as opposed to released after retail – means little.
Going on previous cases, uploading (sharing) would be a civilly actionable offense – lawyers Davenport Lyons in the UK are happy to send out bills to those it claims uploaded its client’s games and the police aren’t interested. But for reasons no-one seems to fully understand, the police are involved in this case and have sent a car full of officers to make an arrest at the individual’s place of work, all for sharing a few minutes of music.
Another issue up for debate is the big question mark sitting over the usefulness of site logs. Stats are manipulated all the time for one reason or another and trackers have to rely on a user’s torrent client reporting data correctly. To be anywhere close to proving infringement it is necessary to track the transfer of data from within the swarm by directly receiving data from the uploader. This is fairly trivial, does not require the site logs and importantly should’ve been done at the time the album was uploaded. Why there has been such a huge delay in taking further action is unknown.
Last year saw an unexplained shift in the way copyright actions are dealt with in the UK. Out of nowhere, both OiNK and the popular TV-Links sites were taken down by police action where one would usually expect a civil lawsuit, leaving prominent legal experts intrigued as to the legal basis.
Uploading one album is not the world’s most heinous crime, in fact, unless the UK legal system changed overnight, it’s not a crime at all since there would’ve been no commercial gain for the user. So what route is this investigation taking? What is the significance of arresting this individual and investigating others over a seemingly small civil issue, and why has it taken so long to do so?
As usual, there are more questions than answers. The arrests have started, but it is unknown how many people are involved. We contacted the Police department that was responsible for at least one arrest, however, they did not respond to our inquiries. If you have any information, please contact TorrentFreak here, as we will post an update of the arrests later this weekend.