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The Witch-Hunt on Swedish File-Sharers

With the help of a "special software", Spridningskollen are able to track IP-addresses and fine illegal file-sharers.

av John-David Ritz
2016 09 14, 11:53am

Downloading films such as Bad Santa 2 and Roxette Diaries without removing the torrents from your computer, could turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes you'll ever make. Not because they're a waste of your time, but because, if uploaded, they could cost you 2,000 SEK/€210 each.

In countries such as Germany and Canada, national laws against piracy work on behalf of the state. In Sweden, peer-to-peer pirates are monitored by private companies. Swedish debt collector Gothia Law and PR agency Prime have created an initiative called Spridningskollen [Sharing Watch] on behalf of copyright-holders Scanbox Entertainment, Noble Entertainment, Atlantic and Crystalis Entertainment. Spridningskollen refers to the IPRED law, which is based on an EU directive. The law allows copyright-holders to get access to your personal data via internet service providers (ISPs) without involving the police.

Since the IPRED law was enforced in 2009, the government expected it to bring about between 400 and 800 cases per year. But between April 2009 and August 2012, only 11 cases were reported. Here's where Spridningskollen – which monitors 150 films and TV-series – hopes to increase the number of piracy cases in Swedish courts. With the help of a "special software," Spridningskollen tracks IP-addresses with which they will identify people sharing files.

"One can compare it to a speed camera. In the same way that a speed camera only records those who drive too fast, only the internet users who share copyrighted material without permission will be logged," spokesman of Spridningskollen and Gothia Law CEO, Gordon Odenbark, told torrentfreak.com.

When enough information has been gathered, letters will be distributed in which Spridningskollen will demand that the user pays a fine of 2,000 SEK. It's estimated that between 500 and 1,000 individuals will receive a letter this year.

The current settlement fee will most likely increase in the future. "At this point we have said that we're only asking for 2,000 SEK per film, but that amount will increase. I can almost guarantee that we will raise the damages this autumn," Odenbark said.

If the alleged file-sharer refuses to pay the fine, the case is suppose to end up in court. "It feels very counterproductive and retrograde trying to scare people this way, where a private organisation works in a mafia-like manner, sending threats and blackmailing people," Jon Karlung, CEO of internet provider Bahnhof told me. "To threaten and intimidate one's client base has never been a good business model," he continued.


Jon Karlung. Photo by Emil Nordin

I called up one file-sharer who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. "This is disappointing news. I think that [the copyright holders] are worried about how their own business model looks like and that there are people reluctant to follow them," he said.

One legal obstacle is getting proof that it's actually the internet subscriber who's been sharing certain files. Spridningskollen doesn't have the same jurisdiction as the police, who can seize and examine someone's computer to obtain evidence. Neither can they prove how many linked units are connected to an internet subscription.

"It's not reasonable for a parent to have an eye on everything that's going on in every computer and every installed program(s) on the computer(s) in their household. Perhaps the kids' friend or someone else has shared files during a visit. The internet subscriber can't be held accountable for that," IT legal counsel Daniel Westman told newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Spridningskollen will share the collected fees between copyright holders, administrative expenses, legal costs and ISPs that provide Spridningskollen with IP-addresses.

Peter Sunde, co-founder of the now infamous Pirate Bay, is skeptical of the fact that ISPs are indirectly getting paid by Spridningskollen to hand out clients' information. "An ISP has the responsibility to build a fair access to the internet, they should not interfere with the content of the web – the courts are to decide what information the ISPs should share, not due to some deal they might have with copyright companies, whether it's money or other benefits," Sunde told me.

Peter Sunde. Photo via WikiCommons

However, Spridningskollen's model has been proven very successful in other European countries, Canada, and the US. In Germany, where file-sharers receive fines between €300 and €1,500, the distribution of copyrighted material decreased by 42 percent between January and April this year compared with the same period of 2015. In Sweden, the decrease was only three percent during the same period.

But Karlung sees Spridningskollen's methods as counter-productive and reactionary. "It's better for copyright holders to put their money into developing services that people want to pay for such as Netflix and Spotify, instead of becoming entrenched in the 1900s," Karlung told torrentfreak.com.

Karlung's own ISP company, Bahnhof, is behind the counter site Spridningskollen.org, and the first to claim the 'Spridningskollen' trademark at the Swedish Patent and Registration Office. They're currently accusing Spridningskollen of trademark infringement in an attempt to shut down the organisation's website.

More from VICE:

Is Canada Going to Successfully Crack Down on Illegal Downloading?

Dodge the NSA with This Fancy Encrypted Messaging Service

Simon Klose Made a Film About the Guys who Founded The Pirate Bay

Tagged:
Internet
Sweden
torrents
Illegal Downloading
Peter Sunde
VICE Sweden
fine
file-sharing
Vice Blog
Jon Karlung
Bahnhof
Spridningskollen
Gothia Law