Europe Ramps Up Piracy Crackdowns

EUROPE — Efforts to combat Internet copyright piracy through file sharing are heating up in Europe.

While TorrentFreak is clearly an advocate for Internet users, the news site reports that Sweden, in the wake of the Pirate Bay trial, has assigned more police to take part in efforts to track down infringers.

"We have received a mandate from the government to implement measures to make our efforts against file sharing more effective,” said Stefan Eurenius of the Swedish police, according to The Local.

The move has been decried by opponents, who say police will be taken off far more serious crimes of violence, ranging from robbery to rape.

In the neighboring Netherlands, a coalition government advisory committee has called for more stringent copyright laws, reports EU Observer.

Currently, personal downloading of movies and music — even if not legally purchased — is considered "fair use" and not against Dutch law.

Rights-holders groups want to see that changed.

However, the committee's recommendations also state that other legal options should be sought by the entertainment industry. In May, a survey found 93 percent of Dutch young people, ages 12 to 24, download illegally. The commission's report suggested a new licensing approach, in which music, films and video games could be downloaded for a fee. Don't sites such as iTunes offer that already?

Taking a more militant stance, the Lithuanian anti-piracy outfit LANVA wants ISPs to monitor where customers go on the Internet and report anything suspicious back to the agency. LANVA also wants access to the ISP servers within 24 hours and the personal information on anyone suspected of infringement. The proposal has already drawn fire as totalitarian, a "big brother" move. According to Baltic Times, the head of LANVA was threatened with death and the plotters were arrested and prosecuted.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, the Digital Britain government report was published this week, outlining how entertainment industries and Internet service providers, together, should address Web piracy.

Among the Digital Britain proposals are familiar ones, such as warnings from the government — not ISPs or rights holders — along with plans to pass on an accused infringer’s personal information to entertainment groups if a court orders it so. UK ISPs are already warning alleged violators, and user data is passed on to law firms with a court order.

The Digital Britain report also suggests reduction of connection speed and download limits if warnings fail. The blocking of sites such as The Pirate Bay also should be considered, and even possibly cutting off access to all BitTorrent sites, the report said.

The UK government seeks to reduce illegal file-sharing by 70 to 80 percent, but doesn't place all the blame on infringers. The report states companies must "give the consumer or the fan highly affordable and convenient content" and also stresses a need for consumer and parent education, adding that "commercially led solutions remain by far the preferred approach."

Britain regulator OfCom will be tasked with taking steps to reduce copyright infringement and is empowered to force ISPs to follow through on any measures put into law.

Unsurprisingly, with all the anti-piracy activity, the user camp isn't staying quiet and will not go gently into that Internet night.

"Governments must realize that the cost of repression exceeds by far the benefits and most of the time harms civil liberties," said Jeremie Zimmerman of the ever-vocal La Quadrature du Net.

"File-sharing is unstoppable anyway. The real question will be about how to use it to find new ways of funding creation," Zimmerman told EU Observer. "All conservative and repressive measures are bound to fail."

Of course, Europe is just one region taking on 'Net piracy.

In Australia, a federal court recently ordered ISP iiNet to hand over the records of 20 suspected copyright infringers.

The ISP is embroiled in a lawsuit from the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and multiple major film studios. AFACT demanded that iiNet disconnect alleged copyright infringers but the ISP refused, reports ITNews Australia.

There was, however, one staged incident that may taint AFACT's case, as it had an Internet undercover agent of sorts sign up as a customer and commit copyright infringement. AFACT filed a complaint and iiNet did nothing, claiming no knowledge of the violation.

Some experts in Australian law have said such shenanigans are the equivalent of a variation on entrapment because AFACT asked an individual to infringe in order to seek evidence against iiNet, which claims it has been singled out.

"There are 400 ISPs operating in Australia. If we were expected to take specific actions that nobody else is required to undertake, we would argue that is quite unreasonable," said iiNet's Steve Dalby. "So we are asking AFACT the question while under the confidentiality of the court — what agreements do you have with other ISPs?”

The case continues in Australian court.