Exposing the madness wehind current economic thought

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Anti-piracy group takes child's laptop in Finland

In the spring of 2012, in Finland, the father of a young girl received what amounted to a blackmail letter from a copyright lawyer. The letter demanded the payment of 600 Euros as damages for having distributed copyright-protected music recordings. The letter also demanded that the father sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the matter.

The father contacted the lawyer and denied having distributed any copyrighted material. He explained that his daughter, who had been nine years old at the time of the so-called crimes, had tried to download some songs of her idol, the Finnish artist called Chisu. The girl had been saving money in order to buy Chisu's latest CD, but was impatient to hear some songs from the album already, and so her dad showed her how to write the appropriate keywords in search engines. Despite her attempts, the girl only managed to download something that did not play. Soon after that the father bought the CD for the girl.

In November 2012, something unbelievable happened. Two police officers with a search warrant entered the home of the family and seized the girl's computer. The police officers also suggested the father pay up "to make things easier for everyone involved" because they would immediately drop the matter if he did.

Even the Finnish Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (TTVK ry, a private association of the copyright industry) has admitted that the identity of a person who shares copyrighted material online cannot be ascertained, and that, in Finland, the threat letters are sent to the owner of the Internet connection. The owner of the connection is the one who risks being subjected to a search and seizure of property.

TTVK also says that the majority of people who have received these letters have agreed to the non-disclosure and payments demanded of them. The amounts are smaller than in the US, but still hefty. Shocking but true, apparently a copyright holder can demand mafia-style payments from ordinary people who are told to hand over their money and shut up or otherwise the police might come and take away their computers. TTVK has openly admitted that the aim of the letters is to threaten other downloaders.

The disturbing incident was covered in the Finnish online and printed press, and made international headlines. In his detailed Facebook post about the incident, the father makes it clear that he has supported artists in many ways for his entire life, but as a result of the unethical practices of the copyright industry he has come to question the sanity of the copyright enforcement system.

After the incident had become a major PR headache for the copyright lobby, the matter was settled out of court between the father and TTVK, and the father apparently agreed to pay half of the originally demanded amount (300 Euros). After this, the seized laptop is being returned to its owner.

Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi) filed a request to investigate the actions of the Helsinki district court and the police with the parliamentary ombudsman. According to the court papers, TTVK only had evidence that one music album had been downloaded from the IP address which belonged to the father. The court interpreted this as constituting significant ongoing damage to the copyright holder and ordered the ISP to reveal the identity of the user of the IP address to TTVK. In the opinion of Effi, this is an overreaching interpretation of the Finnish copyright law. The police "planned the search and seizure carefully" (in their own words) but failed to act in proportion to the alleged damage: they should have only copied the contents of the laptop for evidence instead of seizing the whole device. Additionally, as police resources are limited nowadays, carrying out a search and seizure operation in a minor case like this has probably delayed the investigation of more important cases.