Earlier this week reports surfaced that a working group at Finland’s Ministry of Education is considering the possibility of delivering warnings to the screens of suspected illicit file-sharers, via their ISPs.
At the moment it is only possible to discover the identities of alleged file-sharers through legal action or via the police, therefore implementing the system would require amendments to Finland’s data protection laws.
As reported on our sister-site FreakBits, Finland’s brand new Pirate Party was officially registered this week, so we took the opportunity to catch up with party spokesman Kaj Sotala for his thoughts on these proposals.
Kaj told us that the original memo (.pdf, Finnish) actually constitutes a blow against the copyright lobby.
“In the introduction/summary, it is stated that the currently existing legislation is sufficient, and already makes it possible to act against unauthorized file-sharing. While they do suggest a new procedure, whereby ISPs would begin issuing warnings to people participating in file-sharing, they are not certain if this is actually necessary. They emphasize that anything along those lines would require careful consideration as well as a balancing between the interests of copyright, privacy, and secrecy of correspondence,” he explained.
Like most countries, Finland currently has plenty of legislation which rights holders can call upon in the case of copyright disputes and, if they approach the court with evidence of breaches of a “considerable degree”, they can get an order for ISPs to hand over the alleged infringer’s identity.
Rights holders then have several options – offer up charges, settle out of court (pay up or else) or report the alleged offenses to the police. If the rights owner goes down the civil route, the court can threaten to fine an individual if he fails to stop his activity.
“The court may also order the defendant’s ISP to block the sharing of the illicit material, by whatever means the ISP finds appropriate,” Kaj explains. “This usually requires that the defendant has failed to obey a request to stop sharing, but can also be done immediately and without hearing the defendant, if the court deems that severe economic damage will result otherwise.”
If the rights holder goes down the criminal route, it is up to the police to decide if the offenses are serious enough to pursue. If they are, the police can order an ISP to hand over customer details. The potential for punishment under current laws could be a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years.
“There is also a DMCA-like procedure by which the rights holder can request a website host to take down infringing content. However, it’s more restricted than the DMCA, as the rights holder is required to first contact the person who put up the content and request him to voluntarily take it down. The website host can only be contacted if the infringer does not comply, or if they cannot be identified,” Kaj told TorrentFreak.
In 2008, rights holders made use of current legislation by successfully persuading courts to force ISPs to hand over the personal information of fifty alleged file-sharers. The memo indicated that more strict measures aren’t really necessary as the current ones are sufficient, although Kaj explained that there was an emphasis to follow developments closely.
The suggestion that warnings could be flashed up on the screens of alleged file-sharers is considered to be a milder alternative to legal action, and Kaj explained to us how it might work.
First off the rights holder would send a warning to the ISP, which it would then pass to the alleged infringer, but already there is a problem – there would be a need for changes in the law to operate such a system.
“Currently existing laws concerning secrecy of correspondence do not allow an ISP to connect messages sent over their networks with individual users for this purpose,” Kaj explained.
According to the proposal, rights holders would be required to pay for the system – Kaj told TorrentFreak that it is hoped that this would help reduce the number of frivolous warnings and notes that the memo speculates that this “could be combined into a gradual process, where file-sharers are initially warned to cease sharing, and only brought to court if they fail to adhere to the warnings.”
The memo concludes by noting no changes to the current system are needed at this time, saying it is premature to consider such a warning system, or any changes in the law to accommodate it.