Police have seized control of a music website and replaced it with a message threatening visitors with 10 years in prison. Britain's elite Serious Organised Crime Agency arrested the owner of the site, RnBXclusive, and closed it down over alleged copyright infringements -- yet sidestepped copyright law to do so.
RnBXclusive allegedly provided copyright-infringing music downloads to users. But SOCA didn't use copyright laws to shut down the site, instead claiming conspiracy to defraud. Why? Because copyright law requires a pesky court order to block UK users from visiting the site.
No court order was sought in this case for SOCA to take out the site. Instead, after arresting the site's owner in Leicestershire this week, police went straight to the source, paying the hosting company -- which is not based in the UK -- to replace the site with an intimidating message.
SOCA's new message chides visitors that, "As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry."
Nobody wants to damage musicians -- except maybe bagpipers -- but when did SOCA start caring about the feelings of young musos instead of the drug-dealing, human-trafficking, money laundering wrong'uns it was formed to combat?
10 years in jail
RnBXclusive now displays your IP address, warning you that "the above information can be used to identify you and your location". It veers into draconian threats at this point, advising you, "SOCA has the capability to monitor and investigate you, and can inform your Internet service provider of these infringements."
SOCA's new landing page admonishes visitors, "If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law."
Ten years and an unlimited fine for visiting a website, which appears to have been seized and shut down without recourse to established channels? No wonder digital rights campaigners are up in arms. The Open Rights Group describes the threatening message as "inappropriate" ahead of a meeting with SOCA, in which it will investigate the legal basis for these actions.
It's a disturbing new avenue of attack for authorities against copyright infringement, especially after legal precedents were set in the recent Newzbin case to block infringing websites.
Copyright infringement isn't theft, it's copyright infringement
The SOCA message also claims that "the majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists". Now I'm no lawyer, but sharing files, however much you infringe copyright to do so, is not stealing.
We have copyright laws to deal with exactly these situations, and for cops to equate copyright infringement with theft -- with all its attendant severe penalties -- is to pander to the ravings of a music industry desperately trying to save its own skin, rather than embracing the new opportunities of the digital age.Is this a scary and inappropriate clampdown, or is it about time authorities got tough on copyright infringement? Launch a dawn raid in the comments, or kick down the door and read me my rights on the Facebook page.