During the summer, Poland became entangled in what is likely to be one of the world’s most important copyright battles. Alleged KickassTorrents founder Artem Vaulin was arrested in the country, where he continues to fight extradition to the United States.
Now Poland finds itself at the center of separate but related file-sharing controversy, this time related to the activities of copyright trolls and the authorities apparently working on their behalf.
Like most areas of Europe, Poland is being targeted by aggressive content owners. These companies trawl torrent networks for IP addresses in the hope they will lead to people prepared to pay a settlement amount to make legal issues go away. But while in the rest of the continent these matters are generally a civil legal matter, in Poland police are deeply involved.
According to several reports in local media, police have visited hundreds of homes across the country, seizing hundreds of computers alleged to have been involved in the sharing of a comedy movie titled “Screwed“.
“We have established 2,600 downloads of the film. This applies to about 900 computers,” the District Prosecutor’s Office in Szczecin told local news outlet TVN24.
The prosecutor’s office say that the seizures were made to protect evidence and stop infringement but the actions of the authorities are causing real concern. TVN24 reports that on a national scale as many as 40,000 people may have downloaded the movie and therefore risk being visited by the police.
Also raising eyebrows is the evidence authorities are acting upon. It is unclear who obtained the IP address-based evidence or whether it has been subjected to any independent scrutiny. Also controversial is the basis upon which computers are being seized.
The action is said to be primarily aimed at people who not only download but also redistribute content online. Of course, this describes most BitTorrent users perfectly, since downloading and simultaneous uploading is all part of the process.
However, the authorities say that their main targets are people cashing in on mass distribution, and that does not accurately describe the general public nor the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people getting caught up in this sweep.
Nevertheless, legal experts cited by local media insist that while downloading is a civil offense, uploading can be viewed as a criminal matter which could lead to fines or even imprisonment of up to two years. However, the wronged party – in this case a movie studio – can offer the alleged wrongdoer a way out if he or she pays compensation.
The action is just one of many similar operations to hit Poland in recent months. A year ago, police seized around 1,000 computers alleged to have downloaded and shared the same movie.
Somewhat worryingly, prosecutors later admitted that they did not verify the technical processes used by the distributors to identify the alleged infringers.
It was also claimed that in some cases police advised suspects to settle with their accusers rather than face legal action. While it’s not unusual for police to act as mediators in all kinds of disputes, critics felt that the advice was inappropriate in an unproven copyright case.