The US company is forcing ISPs to participate in the copyright crusade, but will this approach work in Europe?
Notorious US copyright enforcement agency RightsCorp is set on bringing its services – and controversial methods – to Europe and the UK.
The company, which works on behalf of copyright holders, specialises in monitoring popular torrent trackers and identifying the IP addresses of online pirates. It then forces the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to send letters to the owners of those addresses, demanding $20 (£12) for each illegally downloaded song or movie, threatening legal action as the alternative.
“We are expanding in Canada first, but we are investigating a launch in Europe. I can’t give any specific dates, but we are getting a great reception from everyone we have spoken to [in the UK],” RightsCorp co-founder and CEO Robert Steele told TechWeekEurope.
“In Germany and the UK some copyright holders engage law firms and run large-scale campaigns to bring court orders and file lawsuits against file-sharers. We are sending a much simpler, less expensive communication that resolves the matter before it goes to court. That’s why we are optimistic that there will be a way to do this in Europe.”
Who doesn’t like money?
Since 2011, RightsCorp has achieved more than 60,000 court settlements in the US. To find its victims, the company directly monitors BitTorrent resources like IsoHunt or The Pirate Bay. The monitoring software simply connects to the peers as another file-sharer – once the connection has been established, it can see what files are being downloaded.
According to research from University of Birmingham published in 2012, it takes just three hours from the start of a download for an average BitTorrent user to be monitored by a copyright enforcement agency.
Copyright holders are perfectly aware they are losing money due to online piracy, but they have no tools to fight this cultural phenomenon. And then RightsCorp comes along, offering to claw some of those losses back for free, since any expenses would be taken from the copyright infringers themselves.
Steele says that the US legislation places the responsibility for any file-sharing activity on the user and not the ISP, as long as the ISP had no knowledge that said file-sharing activity took place. And this is where it gets interesting – RightsCorp makes detailed reports and sends them to service providers, so they can no longer claim ignorance.
Under US law, they are then forced to take action, and thereby arguably betray their customers’ trust. As a result, the ISP is likely to lose some of its business. Meanwhile, RightsCorp takes half of the settlement money in fees – as much as the artists it claims to represent.
“We have sent FedEx packages to nearly every ISP in the United States with the login credentials for their RightsCorp dashboard, we send them weekly emails with the list of all their subscribers suspected of infringement,” told us Steele. “We are compelling them with the evidence that they have to do something to maintain their ‘shield’, or our clients can sue them.”
A similar approach to copyright enforcement is already practiced in the UK by companies like Golden Eye, which legally challenged O2 broadband to disclose information on more than 900 of its customers in 2012.
It is important to note that the IP addresses and peer-to-peer sharing information provided by RightsCorp may not in fact make solid court evidence. The experts suggest that recipients of such copyright infringement letters keep calm, do not admit their guilt and under no circumstances agree to settle. Agreeing to settle is an admission of guilt in this instance, and may prejudice future accusations.
Last month, Minister for Intellectual Property Lord Younger warned that the enforcement of intellectual property in the UK is going to get tougher. At the same time, by June the government is planning to introduce exceptions to copyright law which will allow consumers to make copies of legitimately acquired CDs, DVDs and e-books for personal use.
Arrgh! How much do you know about online piracy? Take our quiz!