At the end of April, the UK High Court ruled that 5 Internet Service Providers in the UK must block the well known file sharing site, The Pirate Bay, from copyright violations. For those unaware, The Pirate Bay offered users the ability to download music, videos and other copyrighted material for free through peer to peer software, which the record and film companies claimed was causing them significant economic loss. The British Phonographic Industry have claimed that this is a major victory for Artists everywhere.
The Internet Service Providers, in this case, Sky, Everything Everywhere, Talk Talk, O2 and Virgin Media, have always claimed neutrality with regard to the concepts of internet freedom. They have always maintained that they are not in principle against blocking, provided there is a Court Order.
The British Phonographic industry first chased The Pirate Bay in July, 2011 when it demanded the site stop, and received no reply. They then sought a voluntary blocking order from the Internet Service Providers but those companies refused to do so without a Court Order. As a result, proceedings issued which were recently determined. That case came before Mr. Justice Arnold in the UK High Court in February and he ruled that The Pirate Bay violated copyright regulations. He found “they went far beyond merely enabling or assisting”.
This decision follows a decision in Holland in January ordering two ISP’s in The Netherlands to block customers from The Pirate Bay. In 2010, the Swedish Appeals Court ruled against The Pirate Bay creators, following convictions in 2009 for illegal file sharing. In April, the Swedish Supreme Court refused to hear the Appeal from the founders of The Pirates Bay.
Of course the Swedes have long been at the forefront of social developments and their efforts in relation to file sharing are no different. In January of this year, a Church, whose central belief is the right to file share, has been formally recognised by the Swedish Government. The Church of Kopimism claims that the file sharing, which it defines as sharing information through copying, is a religious service and they managed to register as a religion in Sweden on the third attempt. Their sacred symbols are CTRL+C and CTRL+V (the shortcuts for copy and paste).
The actions in the UK followed the much more aggressive stance taken by the US Courts, most recently the Department of Justice, charging the owners of Megaupload. Rather than just an Order blocking that website, Megaupload Limited, and an associated company and seven individuals were indicted by a New York Grand Jury in January and charged with engaging in racketeering, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement. Those involved face up to 50 years in prison. The company is run by Kim Schmitz, who changed his name by deed poll to Kim Dotcom, who is a 37 year old resident of Hong Kong and laterally New Zealand.
Meanwhile, while a plethora of file sharing sites continue to exist on the internet, one of the first file sharers convicted, Joe Tenenbaum, has taken his case, three years after the initial verdict, to the US Supreme Court. In 2009, he was fined $675,000 for sharing 30 works. The US Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to hear the case, but if they do, it should be determined this year. In the meantime, file sharing sites will continue to abound, many of them located in former Soviet Block Countries with poor legal infrastructure.
There is no doubt that the rights of the authors and their copyright must be respected. However, the question whether the overall censorship of the internet, and how that is affected, remains, and what level of censorship of that information we are prepared to tolerate. A complete Wild West free-for-all certainly is not desirable, but a situation like that that exists in China and certain other countries where access to websites and in particular CNN and BBC is blocked is also certainly not desirable. One thing that is certain is that this certainly is not the last we have heard of these copyright cases.
Watch this space.