Police Skip Millions Of BitTorrent Users On Evidence Issues

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Since early February there have been nine raids against file-sharers across Sweden. Those in the spotlight were targeted because they shared relatively large amounts of music on small file-sharing networks. But were these people really a major threat to the music industry or are the millions sharing on BitTorrent proving too hard a target?

It all began on Tuesday 2nd February. Following investigations carried out by music industry group IFPI, Swedish police carried out raids on individuals said to be sharing between 9,000 and 17,000 music tracks.

Five different locations including Gothenburg, Docksta, Handen and Upplands Väsby were targeted, resulting in the arrest of a 28 year-old man believed to be a Direct Connect hub operator. Several others, all accused of copyright infringement offenses carried out via the hub, were questioned and had their equipment confiscated.

At the end of last week the police conducted more raids, targeting the alleged operator of a Direct Connect hub in Motala and a user in Örebro who reportedly later admitted making available 6,500 tracks via the hub.

Two days ago the police struck again, this time against an individual in Ronneby suspected of sharing around 6,000 tracks via a hub. According to the police, there is now an investigation underway against a university network.

Yesterday saw continued action with the ninth raid in little over a week. This time the location was Kista where the police seized a computer and questioned an individual who allegedly admitted making available around 7,500 files.

These raids throw up an interesting question.

While BitTorrent users could be sharing a limited amount of material with tens of thousands of others in a very public and open setting, the relatively reclusive DC user is admittedly often sharing a lot but within a very much user-limited environment. One could argue that the average DC user contributes far less when it comes to the spreading of copyright material.

But as we have learned, unlike their BitTorrent counterparts they are much more at risk of receiving a visit from the police. So why is that?

File-sharing researcher Daniel Westman told NT that proving mass infringement in order to get the police involved is difficult with BitTorrent, but with Direct Connect it’s a much more simple affair.

“The DC technology allows the police to see everything that the user makes available and there may be thousands of files,” he explains.

Furthermore, for prosecutors to be interested in these cases there will need to be hard evidence available. Unlike in some civil cases, an IP-address and a few spreadsheets isn’t going to be enough.

“The judgments we’ve seen so far also show that it is not enough to simply track a particular subscriber, but you will probably have to also do a search and examination of his computer,” says Westman.

“Conducting a search requires a certain seriousness of crime and that severity can be difficult to prove with BitTorrent,” he concludes.

Thus far, no Swedish BitTorrent user has attracted the attention of the police but although IFPI lawyer Magnus Mårtensson accepts that getting evidence against BitTorrent users is more complicated, he says it’s not impossible.

“We will act even against users of BitTorrent in the future. We are looking right now on how best to collect evidence against BitTorrent users,” he explained.

In the meantime, actions against DC users are likely to continue, with Henrik Rasmusson at the Prosecutors Office promising more raids in “winter and spring.”

Ex-Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde says that some good will come out of these raids, as people become more interested in sharing mechanisms that move away from small private groups, and on to those enabling sharing with everyone on the Internet.

“They do not realize it, but they are only driving more people to The Pirate Bay,” he concludes.

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