ACTA in UK: 10 years in jail for ‘illegal downloads’

3 March, 2012RT

SOCA parked page on former RnBxclusive.com file-share service

SOCA parked page on former RnBxclusive.com file-share service

UK web surfers have caught a grim glimpse of the future with Internet users being threatened with 10 years in jail for “illegal downloading” after a prominent music file-sharing site was shut down shortly after Britain signed the notorious ACTA bill.

It is the first time such a move has been made against Internet users in the UK. The British government introduced regulations in 2009 enabling Internet providers to track users who downloaded illegal content from the web and disable their connection if warning letters had no effect. But signing the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has brought the conflict to a whole new level.

In Europe, people are taking to the streets in protest at the contradictory Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, with some countries refusing to sign it.

After hackers from the activist group Anonymous attacked practically all US government websites in retaliation, the authorities are now considering adopting their own home-grown anti-counterfeiting laws like PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) / SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).

In February, Britain‘s organized crime police shut down RnBxclusive.com, a prominent music file-sharing website with about 250,000 subscribers on Facebook alone and up to 70,000 visitors per day.

In fact, the British police effectively took on the role of personal enforcer to the recording industry, standing guard to protect corporate profits. However sad it might be for many, this is a part of a legal game between copyright owners and the police on the one hand, and defenders of the free Internet on the other.

Normally, the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) tackles crimes “that affect the UK and its citizens.” Now, it seems that downloading content from a file-sharing website has been put on a par with “Class A drugs, people smuggling and human trafficking, major gun crime, fraud and money laundering.”

The practices of SOCA, while enforcing its crackdown on “illegal downloading,” raises even more questions.

10 years behind bars for ‘stealing’ £60?

SOCA is threatening anyone who has downloaded content from RnBxclusive.com or even visited the website with investigation, prosecution, and even jail sentences. Once the police unit gained control of the RnBxclusive web site, it posted a parked page carrying the following warning.

SOCA?s warning
SOCA‘s warning
 
“A 10-year prison sentence you’d expect to be handed down for very serious offenses, sexual assaults and rape, manslaughter,” Andrew Pierson from the Howard League for Penal Reform told RT“You would not normally expect it to be handed down for downloading music illegally.”
 
The SOCA confirmed it had arrested the owner of the site, but refused to tell RT why it is threatening users with a decade behind bars. Instead, they sent this statement.
 
“SOCA targets organized criminal enterprises profiting from the exploitation of the UK public and legitimate businesses. Much of the music offered for download by the RnBxclusive.com website was illegally obtained from artists, leading the industry to attribute losses of approximately £15 million per year to the site’s activity.”
 
A simple calculation shows that dividing £15 million even by 250,000 known users of RnBxclusive.com gives not more than £60 worth of “stolen” content per person.
 
Does that mean that the British judicial system believes 10 years in prison correlate with the “theft” of just £60?

Unprecedented intimidation

The message sent by SOCA has given those concerned with Internet freedom an unpleasant taste of what a more regulated future might hold, if the ACTA treaty to protect online copyright infringement and piracy goes ahead.

“It (SOCA) claimed that your IP address was being monitored, so you could be monitored and tracked. Again, this was a move which seems quite unprecedented in the UK,” Loz Kaye from the Pirate Party told RT“I’m really afraid that we’re going to see this kind of abuse on an industrial scale if ACTA comes to pass,” he said.

After a shocked response from Internet campaigners, SOCA has taken down the harsh message, and replaced it with a simpler one, which just says they have taken control of the domain.

But it has already caused much worry and distress, with many Twitter users apparently unaware that they were visiting a dodgy site, and certainly never dreaming they might be liable to do time for it.

Internet campaigners say the notice was meant to frighten – and in reality, severe penalties could not be applied to casual downloaders. They also argue there is nothing to link RnBxclusive with criminal gangs. So why is SOCA even involved?

What began with threats of cutting users’ Internet connections has grown today into intimidation, with people being threatened, in all seriousness, with a decade behind bars.