In recent times the UK has become one of the most unfriendly countries in the world when it comes to operating a file-sharing site. Efforts by the movie industry and their local proxies have restricted opportunities, and the addition of government assistance since the summer of 2013 has only made things more claustrophobic.
The two main players on this front are FACT, the Hollywood-affiliated Federation Against Copyright Theft and PIPCU, the City of London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. Both have been very active recently, with the latter doing most of its work in the past 10 months or so.
While there are few big announcements from either group, a new UK government report now provides updated statistics from both. The numbers in the just-published IP Crime Highlight Report 2013/2014 show considerable activity, for FACT over the past 12 months and for PIPCU since September last year.
The headline figure from PIPCU indicates that the unit is currently investigating ‘IP Crime’ to the value of £28,869,991, which in the overall scheme of things doesn’t seem big by industry standards. Music sales alone were worth more than £1 billion in the UK during 2013 and it’s not unusual for the industry to claim piracy rates in excess of 90%.
Still, the police unit is not only about investigation, but also about disruption, and their aim to have the domains of infringing sites suspended has reportedly enjoyed some success. According to the new stats, since September 2013 PIPCU have had a hand in the suspension of 2,359 .co.uk domain names. It’s a significant number, no doubt, but the disruption one might expect from such broad action has certainly not been reflected in the press.
Other figures presented by the government relate to the execution of 15 search warrants. No further details have been provided but the action against a local streaming link site accounted for at least one of them.
The final piece of information from PIPCU relates to the current “follow the money” approach employed by anti-piracy groups worldwide. The unit claims to have suspended the ability of 19 websites to process payments, although no detail is given on the nature of the sites from where the processors backed out. PIPCU do work with PayPal, MasterCard and VISA, so it’s likely they’ll be somewhere in the chain.
Without doubt, FACT are the busiest ‘boots on the ground’ anti-piracy group in the UK and the most likely to trouble UK-based file-sharing site operators.
According to the report, in the past 12 months alone FACT has managed to close down 117 ‘pirate’ websites. No further details are provided but the group works on a number of levels, from scaring operators via email to physically arriving at their home addresses. When site operators have been brave enough to talk we have reported on a few instances here at TF, but in nothing like the numbers suggested in the report.
FACT also claim to have targeted people higher up the food chain in the past 12 months, after having a hand in the arrest of seven “alleged” release group members. The inclusion of the word ‘alleged’ suggests ongoing cases, but it’s certainly possible that FACT are referring to individuals arrested in the West Midlands last year.
In addition to having another 10 websites blocked by UK ISPs following action in the High Court, FACT secured the first ever UK conviction of an individual streaming live football matches over the Internet. The case involved the operators of a website called FreeLiveFooty, both of which were arrested in 2010 following complaints from the Premier League.
“FACT’s successes in the past year show the benefits of intelligence led, targeted actions against criminal websites and the people behind them,” FACT’s Eddy Leviten told TorrentFreak. “We also help to guide consumers to legitimate entertainment sources online, in cinemas and on TV.”
While both PIPCU and FACT do make the occasional announcement on achievements, there is a tendency for them to work under the radar.
For example, while FACT has on occasion pressed the big publicity button, such as when they took the BBC along to the home of a file-sharing site operator, often the only reports to surface are the ones published here on TF with the assistance of FACT targets (for example 1,2,3,4,5)
PIPCU also tend not to shout too loudly or too often about their achievements, action against counterfeit domain names and other sundries aside. Again, word often reaches TF of attempted domain seizures or threatening letters way before the police make any announcement, if they ever do. Why they take this approach isn’t clear, but the fact that some attempts fail, such as recently with torrent index Torrentz, is certainly a motivator to keep things low-key.