Late October 2016, we reported on an alarming situation in Poland, where police had visited hundreds of homes across the country, seizing computers alleged to have been involved in the sharing of a comedy movie titled “Screwed“.
In some cases, police reportedly advised suspects to settle with copyright holders rather than face legal action, something critics felt was particularly inappropriate in an unproven copyright case. Now it appears that history is repeating itself in the region, with people being targeted over downloads of a local thriller titled “Drogówka”.
While this is of concern in itself, the alleged offenses took place via BitTorrent way back in 2013, four whole years ago. Local journalist Marcin Maj at Bezprawnik, who’s also an IT security instructor at Niebezpiecznik, has been documenting the activities of copyright trolls in Poland for some time. He picked up the story this week after he learned that police had seized an alleged file-sharer’s computer.
After speaking with local police, he subsequently discovered that 200 to 300 other people had been given the same treatment.
Maj says that after presenting a long list of questions to authorities, he learned that these seizures have been going on continuously for about a year, following a criminal complaint filed by a law firm. It’s that this point that the uncomfortable nature of this whole operation becomes apparent.
“In 2013-2014, lawyer Artur Glass-Brudziński reported numerous copyright infringements (movie sharing) to the prosecutor’s office, and the prosecutor’s office started to identify people behind the indicated IP addresses,” Maj informs TF.
“It’s important to understand that in the Polish legal system, it’s impossible to sue someone who is unknown to a plaintiff [John Doe]. But you can always start a criminal proceeding.”
Such a criminal proceeding was filed in 2014 but it appears that Glass-Brudziński used the process to gain a secondary advantage.
“As a barrister of the [copyright holder], Artur Glass-Brudziński had access to the prosecutor’s documentation. So he used this to obtain identified names and addresses, without waiting for the end of the criminal proceeding. Those people were just witnesses, but Glass-Brudziński sent thousands of letters to them, suggesting they are suspects, which was not true,” Maj says.
So, in effect, a criminal action was used to gain access to personal details that were subsequently used in civil actions. That’s completely legal and quite common in Poland but many view the process as problematic.
“Polish lawyers see this as something not quite ethical,” Maj reports. “Now Glass-Brudziński faces a disciplinary court because his letters were quite misleading. Regardless of that, however, criminal proceedings are still underway.”
A hearing took place before the Disciplinary Court November 13 but a resolution will take some time to reach since there around 80 people involved in the case. In the meantime the current criminal case continues, with several problems.
For example, it’s quite likely that many people will have changed their computers since 2013, but the police are required to seize the ones people currently have. Also, Maj reports that after speaking to people who received demands for cash payment, many report having had nothing to do with the alleged offenses. But there is a broader problem around such cases in general.
As we reported last year, prosecutors admit that they do not verify the technical processes that the copyright holders use to identify the alleged infringers, meaning that hundreds of members of the public are subjected to property seizures based on untested evidence.
“Polish prosecutors often decide to seize computers just because they got an IP address list from a lawyer. Sometimes even prosecutors don’t want to do that, but copyright owners complain to the courts, and the courts issue an order to seize machines. That’s deeply absurd,” Maj says.
“Many times I have asked prosecutors if they check the method used to track pirates. Many times I have asked prosecutors if they have found evidence on every seized computer. The answers? No. They don’t check the method of tracking pirates, and evidence is found only ‘sometimes’.”
There are clearly mounting problems in Poland with both evidence and discovery-based loopholes providing copyright holders with a significant advantage. While questionable, it’s currently all legal, so it seems likely that as long as ‘victims’ can gain access to private information via criminal cases, the cash threats will continue. It’s a topic covered in a report compiled by Maj and the Modern Poland Foundation (Polish, pdf)
“Computer seizures and our report were discussed in the lower house of the Polish parliament in 2016, at the meeting of the Commision of Digitalization, Innovation and New Technologies. Many politicians are aware of the problem and they declare we should do something to stop bullying and seizures. Unfortunately, it all ended with was declarations,” Maj concludes.