It has been the setting for many a spaghetti western, but now Hollywood has warned that Spain could be facing high noon over its appalling record of movie piracy, with a future devoid of DVDs. The unauthorised downloading of films from the internet is so rife, with film-makers complaining that a legal void makes people think movies are free, that Spain could become the first European country to be abandoned by Hollywood studios. Sony’s threat, which affects DVDs but not cinemas, would put Spain on a par with South Korea, which most studios have abandoned because of a similar free-for-all internet culture. While cinema audiences have declined slowly in Spain, sales and rentals of DVDs have plummeted as high-speed broadband make streaming and downloading easier. As a result, three out of four video shops in Spain closed in the five years to 2009. Spending on DVDs can be as low as 10 percent of the level in the UK or Germany. The statistics show that 30 percent of the Spanish population uses file-sharing sites, against an average of 15 percent in the rest of Europe.” A recent report by the Paris-based TERA consultancy on internet piracy in Europe warned Spain had the highest piracy rate and that spending on DVDs had fallen six times faster than in the UK . The report estimated that the film and television industry lost about EUR 900m in Spain as a result of piracy in 2008 – almost twice as much as the music business lost. Internet piracy was causing some 13,000 jobs losses a year in Spain, the report said
Hollywood studios lost a landmark copyright court case against an Australia internet provider on Thursday, when a court ruled iiNet could not be held responsible for unauthorised downloads of movies using its service. The suit against iiNet was filed by a group of the biggest Hollywood studios including Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Disney. The consortium had hoped to prove iiNet not only failed to take steps to stop illegal file-sharing by customers, but breached copyright itself by storing and transmitting the data through its system. Australia’s Federal Court in Sydney ruled it was impossible to hold iiNet responsible for users infringing copyright. iiNet told the court it was not required by law to act on allegations of copyright infringement, that customers were innocent until proven guilty in court, and that the case was like suing a power company for things people do with electricity. The Australian Digital Alliance, a coalition of libraries, universities, museums and galleries, said the ruling would benefit cultural institutions that make their collections available online and can be vulnerable to illegal downloads
The UK’s music industry body has distanced itself from a law firm’s letter-writing campaign demanding cash recompense from people suspected of unlawfully sharing copyrighted files.
ACS:Law has sent thousands of letters to those suspected of unlawfully downloading copyrighted material, demanding immediate payment of hundreds of pounds from each recipient and threatening legal action if they do not pay. On Friday, the BPI said in a statement that it did not condone this approach.
“We don’t favour the approach taken by ACS:Law to tackling illegal file-sharing, which is at odds with the proportionate and graduated response advocated by BPI and proposed in the Digital Economy Bill,” the statement read. “We uphold the highest standards of evidence, and our view is that legal action is best reserved for the most persistent or serious offenders — rather than widely used as a first response.”
Although the BPI used the term ‘illegal’ in relation to file-sharing, such activity is more rightly termed ‘unlawful’, as it is not a criminal offence but a civil matter.
One ACS:Law letter released by consumer organisation Which? tells a suspected unlawful file-sharer to pay £625 within five weeks, or face a court case for damages plus costs.
The law firm represents content rights holders ranging from games companies to record labels. It uses software that tracks file-sharing sites to identify the IP address of suspected unlawful file-sharers, then uses court orders to get ISPs to link those IP addresses to their customers, after which the letters are sent.
This approach stands in contrast with that proposed in the Digital Economy Bill, which wants warning letters to be sent before any technical measures are used to combat unlawful file-sharing.
A BPI spokesman said on Friday that the organisation does support the sending of letters, but “as notifications, as outlined in the Digital Britain proposals”. On Tuesday, Which? issued a statement saying it had heard from more than 150 people who believed they had been wrongly accused. “My 78-year-old father yesterday received a letter from ACS law demanding £500 for a porn file he is alleged to have downloaded,” one consumer is quoted by Which? as writing. “He doesn’t even know what file-sharing or BitTorrent is, so has certainly not done this himself or given anyone else permission to use his computer to do such a thing.”
Matt Bath, head of technology at the consumer organisation, said in the statement that “innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit”, and voiced concerns that many people would be “frightened into paying up rather than facing the stress of a court battle”.
Most people who receive such letters are not sued, according to solicitor Michael Coyle of Lawdit, who represents hundreds of recipients. He pointed out that recipients cannot be forced to pay without a claim being formally issued by the rights holder in court. “Talking very generally, the only way people can be found liable of copyright infringement is in a court, and you have to admit it,” Coyle told ZDNet UK on Friday. “If you don’t admit it, it can only be found on the hard drive. There’s no-one to test the [IP address-identifying] software in court [and relying on] an IP address is at best a wee bit circumspect.” Coyle added that, to his knowledge, no-one has yet launched a challenge to any court-issued claim that followed ACS:Law’s letters
Consumer magazine Which? Computer says it has received complaints from a number of people who claim they have been falsely targeted by a law firm going after illegal file sharers. Which? states that some of those who have received letters from ACS:Law have no knowledge of the offences they’re alleged to have committed. 10 new people have approached the magazine since the law company sent out its most recent round of letters a fortnight ago.
According to the magazine’s technology editor, Matt Bath: “Innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit.”
ACS:Law offers those it contacts the opportunity to settle out of court for around £500, and Bath fears that many will choose that route to avoid the stress and expense of a court battle. On its website, ACS:Law claims that “80 per cent of all defendants opt for settlements outside of court, for amounts more than originally claimed,” and says that it has been instructed “to increase the number of claims we issue at court by at least 300 per cent over the coming months.”
However, it admitted it had dropped some cases from last year. To date none of its actions has resulted in a court appearance, and the company is under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
According to ACS:Law spokesman Anthony Crossley, the firm represents a number of clients, including DigiProtect, a German content forum based in Frankfurt. The front page of the DigiProtect website says “We love music”. Bath advises those who are innocent but accused to “rigorously deny it and, if possible, provide physical evidence of where they were when the infringement took place,” and to contact Which?.
For Alan Ellis, last week was a good one: he was acquitted of conspiracy to commit fraud. The prosecution had argued that the 26-year-old received at least £190,000 in donations to Oink, his filesharing website. Until Oink was shut down in 2007, it had, the crown claimed, helped 200,000 users illegally to download 21m copyrighted music tracks.
For the anti-piracy lobby, the verdict has been a serious setback, not least because it suggests the law hasn’t kept up with technology that allows the copying and transfer of copyrighted material. Ellis was the first person to be charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in relation to filesharing — though others have been convicted on lesser charges — and the crown was hoping for a conviction to send a strong message to filesharers.
Record labels and film studios claim the sharing of movies and songs by computer users costs them hundreds of millions of pounds. Now, though, new technology is coming to the aid of copyright holders. One of the UK’s largest broadband providers is trialling software it says can spot unauthorised downloaders. This could lead to their disconnection from the internet.
The BPI, the trade association of the British music industry, currently employs specialist firms to eavesdrop on people who make copyrighted material available to download. The firms record their IP address, a code that can then be used to identify the alleged filesharer’s internet account.
This process is costly and time-consuming. The BPI must first go to court and present evidence of wrongdoing by an individual to force a broadband provider to hand over the details of that person’s activities on the internet. The threshold of evidence is high, making it impractical for the BPI to pursue more than a handful of cases.
Now, however, Virgin Media is trying out new technology that can automatically detect if a customer’s broadband connection is being used to download copyrighted files illegally. Virgin, which has more than 4m UK broadband customers, offers the fastest connection speeds in Britain and is consequently a popular ISP for filesharers. Hit films such as Pirates of the Caribbean can be downloaded by Virgin users in minutes.
Called deep packet inspection (DPI), the detection technology categorises all internet traffic that passes over a customer’s connection — be that email, general web surfing or online gaming. Traffic identified as filesharing is subjected to a deeper scan and is said to be checked against a database of music and, potentially, films. Detica, the firm that runs the system for Virgin Media, claims it can tell within seconds whether the specific data being downloaded are, say, family photos or the latest Lady Gaga album.
Virgin and Detica insist that DPI is — for now — being used only to measure the level of illegal filesharing, not to snoop on customers. Indeed, they say the key piece of information — the IP address — is ignored in the process. This, of course, doesn’t mean the technology could not target individuals.
When asked whether the new software was able to identify filesharers, a Virgin Media spokesman said: “It could be, but the technology hasn’t been designed for that purpose. The IP information is discarded. It allows us to understand the exact nature of unlawful traffic on our network.”
Virgin’s plans have angered privacy advocates, who claim it is only a matter of time before the company is routinely fingering its own customers. “I think it is inevitable that Virgin will eventually use DPI to identify individual illegal filesharers on its network and, at the end of the day, it probably won’t be Virgin’s decision to make,” said Alexander Hanff of Privacy International, a lobbying group.
He believes the technology will work alongside government proposals to disconnect filesharers who ignore two written warnings to stop. “Peter Mandelson has made it very clear he wants ‘three strikes’ to come into effect, and the only feasible way to do this is for the ISPs [internet service providers] to police their networks using DPI.”
A spokesman for Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills denied the government had discussed using DPI to identify illegal filesharers, but left the door open for it to be used in future: “If warning letters backed by legal action do not prove as effective as we expect, then an additional obligation to introduce appropriate technical measures is worth considering,” he said
Company directors risk fines or conviction if they fail to stop staff from downloading illegal software at work, warns anti-piracy watchdog FAST Iis.
Responding to research from ScanSafe, which showed a 55% hike in workers trying to download illegal software at work, FAST urged companies to tackle issue. Those firms that turned a blind eye could face a criminal trial under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 of 1988.
“Downloading what looks like free software from P2P sites is not recommended. At the very least it’s against the law if the software should be purchased and there’s a high likelihood of malware being a free and silent add-on,” said Fast IiS chief executive John Lovelock.
All firms should make new hires and existing staff agree to an IT policy explaining that action would be taken against any employees using corporate kit illegally.
A man accused of running a sophisticated music piracy website used by more than 200,000 members was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud today. Alan Ellis, 26, was accused of making hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Oink website, which he ran alone from his own bedroom. But a jury at Teesside Crown Court unanimously cleared the software engineer of the charge. Mr Ellis, from Middlesbrough, smiled as the jury foreman returned the not guilty verdict.
During the trial, Mr Ellis had told the jury that he set up Oink in his home in an effort to brush up on his computing skills while a student at Teesside University. He told the court that he had set up the website “to further my skills. To better my skills for employability”. When police raided his terraced house in October 2007, they found almost $300,000 in his accounts.
Peter Makepeace, for the prosecution, said: “At the time this website was taken down, there were approximately 200,000 active members. “Those users had access to about 200,000 audio files. “This site had facilitated a staggering 21 million downloads of those available files.”
He added: “This is not about prosecuting some poor minnow who has taped a record one night and circulated it to their friends. “This is about large scale, professional, clever, technical ripping off.” But Mr Ellis said the money was used to pay for the rental of the computers that ran the website, and that any “surplus” was intended to eventually purchase a server.
He added that the website was developed from a free template, which included with it a “Torrent” file-sharing facility — a popular method used by some to download music illegally. The court heard that users on the site were required to make a donation to be able to invite friends to join the site.
The site did not hold music itself, but it had allowed members to find other people on the web who were prepared to share files with others, allowing people to get hold of music for free. Mr Ellis, who was born in Leeds and grew up in south Manchester, studying A levels in Cheadle, argued that there was no intention to defraud copyright holders. He had a full-time job as a software engineer and said running the site was a hobby.
The prosecution said he told police officers: “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people. None of the music is on my website.” The prosecution said that when interviewed by police, Mr Ellis refused to answer questions about money, and said it was “out of my hands” what his site’s members did. The prosecution argued that none of the cash made by way of donations was going to the music industry. “Every penny was going to Mr Ellis,” Mr Makepeace said.
“He hadn’t sung a note, he hadn’t played an instrument, he hadn’t produced anything. “The money was not going to the people it rightly belonged to, it was going to Mr Ellis.”. Mr Ellis declined to answer questions on leaving court