This week’s IP Enforcement Summit in London brought together experts and stakeholders from all over the world to discuss intellectual property issues. In attendance were representatives from Hollywood, the music industry, and a whole swathe of companies reliant on the exploitation of IP rights.
One of the speakers at the event was Commissioner Adrian Leppard of City of London Police, who spoke about police are contributing to the ongoing fight against piracy. Losses to counterfeiting and pirated goods will amount to a trillion next year, Leppard began. “It’s high yield, low risk,” he noted.
“We need to focus on [the problem] in the UK. We know that UK ISP addresses are visiting websites that are downloading illegal content, up to 7 million of those hits on a monthly basis,” Leppard said.
“The Internet pushes through every border control legislation we have and it is carrying a huge amount of harm to our society, as well as offering creative opportunity for business. At some point there has to be a debate and a challenge about the harm the Internet brings,” the Commissioner told the audience.
While Leppard undoubtedly has a very good grasp of his core topics and has well-deserved reputation as a professional crime fighter, elements of the next section of his speech raise a concern or two. Speaking of the need to consider how pirated content is shifted around online when making new laws, the police chief only sowed confusion.
New legislation required
“The new legislation that’s necessary is not just about prosecuting people and protecting people, we’ve got to think about some of the enabling functions that allow this to happen that we just take for granted,” he began.
“Whether it’s Bitnet, The Tor – which is 90% of the Internet – peer-to-peer sharing, or the streaming capability worldwide. At what point does civil society say that as well as the benefits that brings, this enables huge risk and threat to our society that we need to take action against?”
Perhaps technology isn’t Leppard’s strong point.
Enforcement won’t work against a piracy tsunami
Noting how difficult it is for law enforcement to work across borders, Leppard went on to admit something with which most people agree.
“I don’t think enforcement is ever going to find a way out of this problem. When you’re in a tsunami you can’t push back the water and you have to start thinking very differently about how we protect society,” he said.
“The only way is to work with industry to prevent and to think about the enabling functions of this crime. Enforcement will only ever be a limited capability in this space.”
Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit
Speaking of the unit set up last year to deal with the piracy issue, Leppard said that the inspiration had arrived from across the Atlantic. PIPCU tries to mirror the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE unit, by working as a single point of communication between all interested parties.
Operation Creative, PIPCU’s ongoing anti-piracy initiative, is designed to find a way around the ineffectiveness of enforcement, Leppard said.
“We’ll never enforce our way out of this problem so we have to think differently about how we tackle it and target it. Organized crime is motivated purely by money and the way to start dealing with this is to target the money flows and how people make money out of this crime,” he said.
Working with the entertainment industries, advertisers and credit card companies, PIPCU is provided with “a court-ready and very bespoke evidentiary package” against pirate sites.
“Once we’ve got that court package we know we can defend ourselves in a civil court or a criminal court and we take action,” he said.
What happens next is a phenomenon we’ve been documenting on TorrentFreak for nearly a year now – the official police letters to piracy sites that effectively ask them to close down. However, as Leppard reveals, the technique is not particularly effective.
“The first thing we do is make an overt approach to the owners of the websites and between 4% and 10% of those websites will close down just by having overt engagement. These are global websites, of course they may move to another ISP address, we know that, and we’ll target them there as well.”
Unresponsive sites then see their advertising hit, closely followed by the hindering of their payment processing options. When all else fails PIPCU will move onto the final step….
Disruption and enforcement
“We’re new into this although we’ve been piloting it for the best part of two years and we know it works. We’re in the first phases of that and it will be interesting to see as we move through the next year or so how successful that approach is and how much we get challenged. I expect us to get challenged as well but we have a lot of legal advice behind us,” Leppard said.
“But my point is whether this is successful or not it is this area that we all need to start thinking about if we’re going to combat this problem, not simply ‘how do we enforce, how do we prosecute, how do we target these organized crime groups’, but actually how do we start to disable the very factor that the crime exists – how people make money.”
Looking forward, Leppard admitted that on their own the police can’t don’t much to solve the problem so collaborating with the private sector is the only way. The music and movie industries presumably won’t have much of a problem with that, but whether the approach will prove effective overall is another matter.