There are increasing signs of a rift across the EU about how to deal with the migrant crisis. The European Commission have resorted to a legal challenge against Hungary, Poland and the Czech republic for their failure in taking in asylum seekers. The issue is likely to escalate as there is no real consensus for dealing with this issue among the 28 nations.
The governments in Poland and Hungary are particularly steadfast in their refusal to follow the migrant agreement. The idea was to help the front line countries like Greece and Italy who are being flooded with asylum seekers.
Similarly the Czech Republic agreed only to take 12 people and then indicated they would take no more. The ex-communist countries seem to be the worst in keeping to these agreements and it’s likely that this will cause increasing ill will among the community.
The EU migration officer, Dimitris Avramopoulos has told a news conference that they have made repeated call to these countries to little response. These have been broadcast throughout Europe but you’ll need an EU based video proxy to access from outside these countries.
The commission has said the legal avenue was related to infringement procedures which is the method to punish countries who don’t meet their obligations.It’s not an easy option for the EU and is liely to lead to years of legal arguments before any penalties or fines can be imposed.
Some countries have been quick to criticise this approach which is likely to lead to increased political tensions and divisions within the community. The Polish government for instance is ready to defend it’s position in the courts. The EU is keen to keep unity among the remaining nations particularly due to the Brexit crisis.
However beyond the EU borders there are also issues with Russia and an problematic relationship with the USA. The problem is that the arguments have continued for nearly two years now with little change. EU leaders feel that legal action is the only way to break the stalemate. Most of the nations involved simply do not agree with the relocation system.
They are particularly concerned with the security issues that it raises, something that terrorist attacks in the UK and France have heightened. The reality is that these nations are benefiting greatly from the economic stability and investment of the European Union, so are likely to back down eventually.
There’s many legal implications which will directly result from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union many of these will definitely be in the area of internet and copyright law. Take for example the discussions mentioned in our last post regarding the use of the increasingly popular Kodi media box.
Now Kodi is simply some software that allows you to stream video of any sort from a myriad of devices onto your TV screen. It’s fairly standard stuff however what makes Kodi so popular is the hundreds of add-ons that expand the capability of the software. These programs allow Kodi to stream all sorts of copyrighted material from Sky, BBC, BT and Netflix to name but a few. What makes it even more popular is that you can bypass the technical configuration required and by a pre-installed media box with all that done for you.
You can see why for the cost of one months subscription someone would be tempted to buy a full set up box capable of streaming every Sky Channel from movies to Sports. No subscriptions, no ongoing costs – just buy the box and stream for nothing. With many people’s Sky accounts costing about £20 a week it’s not surprising that they became so popular.
One of the main legal protections people have currently for using these Kodi installed media boxes is a ruling by the European courts that merely streaming copyrighted content (as opposed to copying it) was not illegal. So someone simply watching something as per Kodi, using a free smart DNS Netflix like this solution or a VPN then is not actually illegal currently. This has meant the copyright holders have pursued the sellers and distributors of these boxes rather than the individuals.
Of these perhaps the VPN is the safest option simply because you can firstly completely hide your location and the software functions without any specific configuration to download movies or films online. However the others you can easily argue are specifically designed to watch copyrighted material.
Many people have of course, been downloading movies and films online for decades however it is Kodi which has probably moved this into the mainstream. Downloading torrents anonymously like this takes a fair amount of computing knowledge – whereas buying a pre-configured Kodi box is no harder than setting up a DVD player. Which is why the UK’s Intellectual Property Office is taking such a keen interest, no doubt heavily pushed by the mainstream media companies of course.
It’s likely that using these devices will become illegal much more quickly as a result of Brexit as the IPO will have more direct powers and are not as constrained as the European courts. Also much of the legislation is already in place but just needs slight adjustments to encompass the people who use Kodi boxes to stream copyrighted material.
At the moment, there’s much confusion about copyright laws and the how this affects the ability to stream films and TV shows online. The arguments seem to be focussing on media streaming boxes installed with software called Kodi which effectively facilitates streaming subscription only services.
It’s not surprising these boxes have become so popular, for a small one off investment, you can purchase a box which gives full access to subscription services like Sky which can cost nearly £100 a month. The android based media streamer bypasses the subscription requirements and enables you to watch the latest cinema and TV. Companies like Sky are obviously not impressed with this, maintaining that it is little more than theft, you can see their point when they pay out billions in copyright and licensing fees only to see all their programmes streamed through a Russian server for nothing.
The Court of Justice of the European Union, probably the forerunner in trying to establish some sort of order in the digital world has ruled that you’re not actually breaking the law by streaming content. So tools which allow this are perfectly fine too, you can stream via a VPN or sit and watch the Test match on your Kodi box. So presumably are the millions of people who use things like Smart DNS and proxies to change their Netflix region like this article, although they would be merely switching their subscription rather than avoiding it.
There are lots of complications though and much seems to be centred on the Kodi software. At it’s core, it’s merely a piece of software which streams movies over the internet, however to individuals it’s much more. When you use Kodi with all the various add-ons available it can provide access to just about any piece of media on the internet – legitimate or stolen. After installation no real technical knowledge is required, in fact many of the pre-loaded boxed look remarkably similar to the media boxes provided by the media companies themselves.
It is however these boxes which are being targeted by the authorities as being the most likely route to making downloading copyrighted material a criminal offence. The problem for them is at the moment the EU copyright exemption makes streaming and viewing different from making a physical copy or downloading, Which is why no Kodi user has yet been successfully prosecuted.
The manufacturers and retailers however look first in the firing line, in the UK there have been several raids on individuals who are selling pre-configured and installed Kodi boxes. They seem to be much more of a priority for companies to target as opposed to providers such as VPN services which perform a totally legitimate service of security. These battles seem to be being fought on a technical level rather than a legal one – read this – My VPN Stopped Working.
It is likely though that eventually using a pre-installed Kodi box to download or stream copyrighted material is going to land you in trouble. It’s actually fairly easy to detect users and if it becomes illegal, you can be assured that a big clampdown would follow as it’s already costing companies like SKy millions every year in lost subscriptions.
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.
One of the biggest problem with establishing laws on the internet is everyone has their own idea of what’s required. For you the digital individual can sit in one country and interact, buy, sell and chat with people and businesses in a host of other countries. Every country has their own laws and it’s very confusing which should apply! The European Union is attempting to establish a set of rules for a Digital Single Market (DSM) but it’s extremely difficult as each country still has it’s own internet based rules and regulations too.
Take for example the new Internet neutrality laws adopted by the Netherlands this month, a single law or actually an amendment to their Telecommunications act banning zero rating in the case of certain services or categories. Nothing particularly controversial, yet it illustrates the difficulty in unifying digital markets simply because it contravenes what Europe has already decided that National regulators decide zero rating pricing on a case-by-case basis.
Meanwhile of course commercial enterprises have a slightly different agenda, T-Mobile Netherlands have launched something called ‘Music Freedom’ which allows customers unmetered access to music streaming services. This offer also potentially violates the new net neutrality laws.
None of the laws are particularly restrictive and often represent a desire to protect the consumers. However it is easy to see how individual countries passing hundreds of specific internet and telecoms laws will undermine a single digital market. Combined with both individuals and companies also trying to implement their own specific choices makes for a formidable challenge.
At the moment individual consumers have to use technical skills and IP changing software to access digital products which are bought in one European country if they travel to another. Yet the companies don’t like this for a variety of reasons and it’s why you’ll find things like Netflix VPN bans – here – mainly they say to enforce licensing restrictions imposed on them.