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File-Sharing Case Against UK Teenager Is Dropped

A teenager charged with distributing copyrighted material using the BitTorrent site Oink has been acquitted due to lack of evidence

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dropped its charges against a teenage boy – who was charged in 2007 with illegally distributing copyrighted material – in a move that is bound to reflect badly on the government’s decision to crack down on Internet piracy.

Matthew Wyatt was only 17 when he was arrested by Cleveland Police, after sharing three albums and one single on popular BitTorrent file-sharing website Oink. According to his lawyers, Wyatt was not responsible for uploading the copyrighted material, but found the music files on a publicly accessible music site and moved them to Oink.

Lack of evidence

On 10 September 2007, several police officers and industry representatives entered Wyatt’s family home and seized more than 160 items. He was charged with distributing copyrighted material so as to prejudicially affect the copyright holder – a criminal offence that carries a maximum custodial sentence of ten years.

“Matthew Wyatt was the victim of a cynical attempt by the record industry to legitimise its heavy-handed tactics and dubious methods by using police resources and the public purse,” said David Cook, of Burrows Bussin Solicitors, which represented Wyatt.

However, the CPS has been forced to drop the case a few weeks before Wyatt’s trial was due to start, due to an oversight by the CPS and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The two bodies failed to trace the digital watermarks of the copyrighted material back to the source, preventing Wyatt from being prosecuted.

“At no time during the course of this prosecution did the CPS actually produce any evidence that the material in question was in fact copyrighted,” said Cook. “In a world where kudos can be gained through early leaks, and fake tracks consisting of live versions, white noise and loops are rife, we believed that this was a dangerous gap in the evidence. We also found it extraordinary that the copyright holder was never asked to identify the tracks as being theirs.”

Making an example

Cook also claims that charging Wyatt with a criminal offence, rather than treating it as a civil case, was inappropriate. “Case law definitively states that copyright offences arising out of BitTorrent should be put before a civil judge,” he said. “In this case, there appeared a simple reason behind the decision to charge with a criminal act – the IFPI wanted to make an example of Matthew Wyatt.”

The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) expressed disappointment with CPS’s decision to drop the case, but said it did not undermine the case for tackling the “serious damage done by pre-release piracy”.

Last week, the leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, rejected calls for full debate on the government’s controversial Digital Economy Bill – which could oblige Internet service providers to disconnect illegal file-sharers. The Bill has already passed its third reading in the House of Lords, and the government plans to pass it swiftly, as part of the “wash up” process at the end of the current government’s term. The bill will get a second reading in the House of Commons, which is expected to be the date on which the General Election will be announced. Protesters say this will prevent a full debate on the bill, despite widespread criticism of it.

Oink trials

In January, Alan Ellis – computer programmer and founder of Oink – was unanimously acquitted of conspiracy to defraud, in the UK’s first illegal file-sharing trial. When police raided Ellis’s home in October 2007 they discovered that the site had 200,000 members, who had downloaded 21 million music files. They also found almost £185,000 in his accounts.

However, Ellis explained that Oink did not host any music itself but simply indexed the files users had available on their computers. This allowed members to download music from other users for free. “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people,” he told police officers.

Despite the verdict, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), said the verdict was a “terrible disappointment”, showing that “the law is so out of touch with where life is these days”. Head of IFPI John Kennedy, said at the time that the industry was considering civil proceedings against Ellis, in a bid to retrieve the £185,000 he raised from the website.

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US Law To Let Federal Government Shut Pirate Sites

A proposed US federal law would allow the US Department of Justice to shut down sites breaking copyright

On  by Fahmida Y Rashid eWEEK USA 2012. Ziff Davis Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved. 1

A new bill to give the US federal government the power to shut down websites “dedicated to infringing activities” is currently making the rounds in the US Senate. The bill, if passed, would give the government the power to shut down piracy sites.

“Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property” or PROTECT IP, is a revised version of the controversial “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act”, or COICA, that was introduced and killed last year.

Revised bill

The revised legislation would allow the US government to obtain court orders to require ISPs, search engines, ad networks and online payment processors to stop supporting sites with pirated content.

The Patriot IP act, which a bipartisan group of 11 senators introduced on 12 May, would allow the government to bring lawsuits against piracy sites and force search engines like Google and Bing from displaying links to those sites in their results pages.

“Both law enforcement and rights holders are currently limited in the remedies available to combat websites dedicated to offering infringing content and products,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the bill’s main sponsor.

Unlike the ill-fated COICA, PROTECT IP defines targeted sites narrowly and would target sites selling or distributing counterfeit goods online, including fake pharmaceuticals, music and movies.

“This bill has a new name, but it’s mostly more of the same,” Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge, wrote on the group’s blog. Siy was concerned that the bill, as written, would still give the government the power to take action against sites that aren’t actually hosting pirated content, but are just seen to “enable or facilitate” infringement.

The Justice Department would also be able to get injunctions to force Internet service providers to turn off DNS, or Domain Name System, services to these sites, effectively making them inaccessible in the US The injunctions wouldn’t affect international providers, so the sites would still be accessible abroad.

Domain Name Systems allow users to type in the name instead of the actual IP address of the server to access the site.

Rights holders

The ability to sue the piracy sites wouldn’t be just restricted to the US attorney general, as rights holders would be able to sue to stop such sites from making money. The rights holder can’t sue to block access under the bill. The lawsuit also has to be against the actual owner or operator of the website, not just the domain name.

Domain name registries, registrars, search engines, payment processors and ad networks would be protected if they take action against the offending site.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was “no less dismayed” by the updated bill. The clause that would allow the government to prevent search engines from linking to sites could also impact social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter or “potentially any service or web pages where a URL might turn up”, the group wrote on its Deeplinks blog.

Law-enforcement requires “necessary tools” to fight “illegal, parasitic websites that steal the hard work of millions and expose innocent users to a spectrum of significant, real-world dangers”, said Philippe Dauman, president and chief executive of Viacom. He claimed more than 140,000 jobs have been lost across the entertainment industry due to online piracy.

A recent report by the Business Software Alliance conservatively estimated that software piracy cost companies $59bn (£36bn) in lost revenue in 2010.