The noose is tightening on illegal downloads

File sharing websites that allow users to illegally download and share copy-written material are currently under siege.

Recently, the website Megaupload, one of the world’s largest file sharing networks, had their New Zealand offices raided and had over $50 million in assets seized. Their founder, Kim Dotcom, is set to stand trial for racketeering charges. Another site, BTJunkie, voluntarily closed their site to avoid further problems in wake of the crackdown.

In May 2011, Limewire, a now-dead file sharing software program, paid $105 million to the record industry in a settlement on the eve of a trial.

The Pirate Bay is one of the web’s largest file sharing sites and will be changing from torrent files, which is a way for users to simultaneously download and upload material from the web, to magnet links in an effort to skirt the attack on file sharing websites.

Megaupload: Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, is set to stand trial for racketeering charges in New Zealand after his compound was raided by U.S. authorities in early January 2012.Screen capture by: Derrick NewmanJust as companies like Napster faced in the late ’90s and early 2000s with music, copyright laws like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – which Canada is a part of – are forcing websites like The Pirate Bay to play cat and mouse with the authorities.

“Those (downloading torrents) are infringing activities under the law,” Michael Geist, a law professor at University of Ottawa, said in an email. “It typically falls to rights holders to enforce their rights under the Copyright Act.”

Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said that there are already laws on the books that make downloading copy-written material infringing, but he said that police only seem to act on larger commercial scale operations.

Is it uncontrollable?  

Stephen Parker, an Intellectual Property lawyer with Fraser Milner Casgrain in Edmonton, believes the problem is simply the volume of people on the Internet.

“You just look at the scale of how many people are on the Internet, and how many people download things, and you would need a police officer for every person on the Internet to monitor that stuff,” Parker said.

Parker added that action usually comes when companiLimewire screenshot: In May of 2011, Limewire, a now-dead file sharing software program, was shut down and later forced to pay the record industry $105 million. Screen capture by: Derrick Newmanes, like film distributors, realize that their material is being downloaded without consent.

“It really comes to light when someone discovers that their content, that could otherwise be purchased, is being downloaded for free illegally,” Parker said. “That’s when actions typically take place. So if someone is licensing stuff like movies, books, etc., and they start to notice that their licensing revenue is declining or noticing people have access to their work without paying their required fees, then that’s when you typically see actions for infringement and things like that.”

Parker added that these matters are cyclical and that it’s hard to predict what might come next.

“As technologies continue to progress, there will be people on both sides,” he said. “There will be those who will find ways to disseminate copyright works, and on the other end there will be similar technological advances that will find ways disable people to do so.”

A Moral Issue

RCMP Sgt. Jeff Cameron specializes in technological crime and thinks it comes down to more of a moral issue with the end user.

“I guess that every person has to use their own internal compass to see if they feel right about doing it,” Cameron said. “Is some policeman going to come knock on your door if you are downloading something illegally? No, that’s not going to happen.

“Internet service providers, like Telus or Shaw, will send out notices that you have been detected as [to be] downloading illegal material.”

Cameron added that law enforcement units, like the RCMP, tend to put their resources into situations where there are actual strong laws to enforce and where there are people being hurt, like in situations where child pornography is involved.

Cameron stated that the punishment for downloading copy-written material could result in a fine, but that most of the severe punishments come to those who distribute the material.

A downloader’s perspective

One Calgary downloader, who requested to remain anonymous, doesn’t see an end to this sort of activity.

BTJunkie: BTJunkie was a bit torrent file sharing website but it decided to voluntarily close up shop to avoid possible financial and legal trouble in regards to copyright infringement. Screen capture by: Derrick Newman“Some users can’t afford to just run over and grab ten movies in a week, and that’s understandable,” he said. “Me, I do it (download free movies) because I can, everybody can.

“In regards to movies, everything is going digital, everything is streaming. You order it on your Wii, your PS3, and your Xbox. The digital downloading, the torrents, the groups that pirate; it’s never going to stop, it’ll never stop.”

However, with the seizure of Megaupload, the abrupt end to software like Limewire (Limewire shutdown), and the recent voluntarily closure of BTJunkie, it seems as though law enforcement is bound to catch up to those willing to play chicken with copyright laws.