(Picture not my own, credit where due)
While I was minding my own business, going to work and making do with what life’s hand has dealt me recently, a fat envelope landed in my post-box.
A law firm from Hamburg had selected me as a presumed perpetrator of downloading a movie illegally. 5 pages of legal mumbo jumbo, all intended to intimidate and scare the recipient of the notification – with the account details of said firm, in fat black double spaced and font size – as the solution for the offense.
Having lived most of my life in a country, which last week received place 80 in the Transparency List and last place in the European Community, I had never until then known anyone let alone personally been involved in such “legal notifications”.
What I felt was not fright, but outrage as similar stories I collected from colleagues and friends mounted. Of course, I did my homework and researched the authenticity of the firm. I also found out some amazing things.
-What we are looking at is really Big Business.
-That the offense of “illegal download” stands in no relationship to the fines
-That all energy is concentrated on going after the little fish
-The real perpetrators remain anonymous and seem to be of no interest
In short a whole new industry has been created with enormous revenues and as is usually the case where big money is involved, lobbying the law follows.
The year 2007 saw 16 companies with 62 pieces of copyright ownership and just 5 law firms pursuing said works. In 2012 there were already 422 copyright owners and 65 firms. The volume of legal notifications mailed off in 2012 was about half of what it was in 2011. The top ten law firms sent out between 5,000 and 24,000 letters in just one year! Lets say for the year 2012 there were a total of 250 working days, then you come to an average of between 20 and 96 legal notifications sent out per day!!! Now take into consideration the range of the demanded sums from 330 to 1,565 Euros, you come to an average of 819 Euros per letter. Gross earnings for the law firms? 87,000.000 Euros in 2012. These numbers have been provided by the firms themselves and there is no telling how accurate they are. It is speculated that the actual numbers are much higher(reference under http://abmahnwahn-dreipage.de)
So, this is one side of the coin. The other side is that you as the recipient, will either pay up, find your own lawyer or do nothing and hope for the best. Paying up and signing the enclosed declaration to cease and desist, which usually gets you into even more trouble cause it paves the road for more and future demands. If you decide to lawyer up and stand up against this rip off, well you still have to pay the attorney you hired and in some cases you will have to come to some financial agreement with the other party. A lucrative business model: Minimal effort and maximum benefits, in which once again the rights of the few are disproportionally represented and the real culprits get away or as in the most notorious case Kim Dotcom – remains under house arrest in a huge estate in New Zealand.
So here are a couple of questions that formed in my head:
How is it possible that the IP addresses of the average people can be “found out” and the original work placed on the web, CAN NOT be traced to its source? It makes me wonder, that since this is such easy money to be made from absolutely nothing – it is also very possible that said owners of copy rights place them on the net in the first place.
How legal is it to hire investigative firms, that most likely employ some sort of spying program to find these IP addresses and then obtain court orders en masse to receive the actual addresses through their telephone and internet providers? We are talking 440 (for the year 2012)court orders alone per day? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? (which makes me wonder, if they can do that- what else are they capable of doing or doing already, that we do not know about)?
Why are there so many different views on P2P copyright issues in Germany? Making it even more profitable to “threaten” to sue in some cities, than others? Should there not be a standard ruling which holds true everywhere? And what does that say about the courts or the judges credibility?
How is it possible that the justice system has not woken up to the fact that this is indeed a grand scale rip off scam going on right under their noses? The fact that these legal notifications are mass produced and the number of rightful owners, lawyers and immense sums of money are rising steadily, clearly shows that something is amiss.
How can it be that the rights of the average citizens, faithful taxpayers(most of them) and pillars of our society become culprits in a scheme which spells money for the few? Are bullied, terrorized, intimidated and then forced to pay amounts which stand in no relationship to the actual damages done. While record and movie companies and their lawyers (who chased ambulances 10 years ago), jumped on the band wagon of a much more profitable business.: The law stands idle.
And just for the record, I do whole heartedly agree that downloading from the internet is damaging for the artists and companies. But I also think that fines should be considered in the range of the actual purchase price of the item at stake. Most P2P users haven’t got a real clue as to how things work anyway and punishing them for gainfully and illegally obtaining and distributing material, just isn’t the case.
In this age, where we can be and are observed via satellite, CCTV and the doings of the NSA or others, we the average world citizens, are the targets. All in the name of making the world a safer place for us? We do not benefit from it directly. Our rights are being trampled, revoked and reduced. And not just that, our governments cut our health, educational and social programs in favor of big industry, military and space. While big Banks scam and scheme, no one is responsible. While the 1% hide their money in off shore accounts, Switzerland or Luxembourg, no one is at fault. While generals and soldiers slaughter the innocent and unsuspecting, their trials are held in private. While members of the church molest, no one is held responsible. While Multi-National companies exploit labour world wide and blackmail their governments into paying less taxes than an average citizen, they are not liable. While criminal activities of presidents and members of parliament are protected by immunity, no one is ever held accountable.
They are invisible, but we are not!
P.S. And while I was writing this another letter landed in my mail box.