/ Technology

Is a police threat to file sharers too heavy-handed?

Police have shut down music file sharing site RnBXclusive.com and arrested the person behind it. A message on the site says visitors may face prosecution and jail time. Is this approach really necessary?

The Serious Organised Crime Agency’s (Soca) statement reads:

‘The majority of files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists.

‘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.’

It leaves visitors in no doubt as to how serious Soca really is about this.

In addition, the site displays the IP address, browser and operating system of anyone who visits the website as well as the date and time of their visit. Underneath this information is a message telling them that this information can be used to monitor you.

‘Soca has the capability to monitor and investigate you, and can inform your internet service provider of these infringements. You may be liable for prosecution and the fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution.’

Messages reminiscent of ‘bullying’ law firms

This type of messaging is reminiscent of the kind of language used by law firms on behalf of copyright holders. These firms sent letters in bulk demanding payment for alleged file sharing and assumed recipients were guilty until proven innocent.

Just reading Soca’s message makes me feel guilty, and a little bit scared, even though I know I’ve never visited RnBXclusive.com and certainly haven’t download music from it.

Which? actively campaigned against the speculative invoicing deployed by some law firms. Of course, there is a difference between law firms contacting alleged file sharers and the police warning people. Soca is merely enforcing the law as opposed to looking to make a fast buck.

Nevertheless, the type of messaging Soca has put on RnBXclusive.com doesn’t help anyone. It’s scaremongering and it offers little information or advice to those who may have inadvertently stumbled upon RnBXclusive.com and downloaded a single track, or for parents of teenagers who may have used the file sharing site.

It also seems entirely disproportionate, as it’s unlikely to deter the most hardened offenders. Instead, Soca’s threat will likely scare witless those who downloaded a track without realising that what they were doing was wrong.

Singing from a different hymn sheet

Worse still, Soca’s message is at odds with the Digital Economy Act. The Act, which is already law though unlikely to be fully implemented until 2013, proposes that internet service providers notify consumers when a suspected copyright infringement has taken place.

Consumers will receive three letters from their ISP. While the form of these letters is as-yet-unknown, Which? believes they should take a graduated approach with the first informing customers of how to prevent further infringements.

The second, we believe, can be stronger in tone and warn that if a third letter is received then the recipient may be added to a copyright infringer list.

This tiered approach is clearly a world away from Soca’s threat of prosecution and a 10 year prison sentence. It makes me wonder whether UK legislators and law enforcers are all singing from the same hymn sheet and, if not, what can we expect?

So, is an educational approach to file sharing more effective or is Soca’s message the perfect wake up call for suspected copyright thieves?

[UPDATE 16 Feb 2012] – In a victory for common sense, SOCA has taken down its threatening message from RnBXclusive.com and has instead replaced it with a simply statement explaining that it has taken control of the domain.


Sorry – stealing by file sharing is illegal and has been for years – so should be punished.

My only exception is if you own an original disk and then want to listen to the tune on an mp3 player – the change of format should not be illegal – though technically it is.

Hopefully format conversion will be legal soon.