There are of course lots of ways to make money on the internet as I’m sure you’ve seen thousands of emails and web adverts describing over the years. Some methods, although not illegal are not quite as savory as others including the rather unpleasant tactic of copyright trolling. We first saw this about 10 years ago when a UK law firm called ACS Law started trying to extort money off individuals who had downloaded movies, story here. However it’s developed over the years and appeared in many areas of the world – usually under the pseudonym of ‘copyright trolling’.
The concept consists of the copyright holder (or fee earning agent) trawling the internet looking for IP addresses who have downloaded their movies or music from torrent or file sharing sites. They will then obtain the names and addresses or the people who are associated with those IP addresses and send them copyright claims. It’s normally a threat of legal action with an option to settle for a specific amount, it can be extremely lucrative for the copyright owner particularly in the case of downloaded pornography. People don’t realise that they can be tracked down to their IP addresses if they’re using their home connections and that anonymous torrenting is something you need to take technical steps to achieve.
Imagine their millions of people using file sharing and torrent sites every day to download copyrighted materials completely unaware of the risks. What’s more a large percentage who would probably rather pay up than a potentially embarrassing court appearance, which is what these trolls rely on. It’s kind of like legalized extortion with the companies usually claiming the moral high ground but are more interested in making some easy money.
Poland seems to be the latest battleground subject to these tactics with hundreds of people being visited by the police seizing the computers of people who have allegedly download a comedy film called ‘Screwed’. Presumably the police have obtained the IP and physical addresses from their ISPs although this doesn’t seem clear at the moment. It’s a much more aggressive approach than happened in the UK where it was simply a civil case which didn’t involve the police or criminal courts.
The action is said to be aimed only at active uploaders and distributors of the copyrighted material. However as every one using a standard torrent client will be uploading and sharing at the same time, this doesn’t really exclude anyone. It all sounds very suspicious and the involvement of the Polish police is extremely worrying as they seem to be seizing equipment and advising suspects to settle the demands outside court. Standards of evidence collection and impartiality don’t seem that important in this situation, particularly as there are many scenarios where the technical information can be misleading.