Here's a pretty interesting development:
As part of a criminal investigation the UK Government has shut down the popular blog RnBXclusive which posted news, commentary and links to music. Authorities have arrested the owners of the site for allegedly defrauding the music industry. In addition, the Serious Organised Crime Agency is threatening users of RnBXclusive that they face 10 years in prison if they downloaded music through the site.
What's particularly noteworthy is the Web page that SOCA has now placed on the site:
SOCA has taken control of this domain name.
The individuals behind this website have been arrested for fraud.
The majority of music 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.
Not content with that, the site then displays the IP address you are using, and goes on:
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.
As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry.
Visit pro-music.org for a list of legal music sites on the web.
This obviously raises some questions, so I took the matter up with SOCA, and here's what its spokesman said in response.
In fact, just one person has been arrested, "on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud." That is, this is not a standard copyright infringement take-down. As the spokesman emphasised, this is a fraud investigation, which changes things rather dramatically, and is also why "10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine" is being mentioned, rather than lesser punishments for copyright infringement.
Specifically, this is not simply about making music files available online: it is alleged that music tracks were obtained illegally from music companies, before they were commercially released, by breaking into their sites. Although the message on the site claims "The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists", that seems like something of a stretch; but the spokesman said that the police had examined files on the site in detail.
I wondered how the UK police were able to take down a .com site that came under US jurisdiction, but was told "jurisdiction not an issue here as the site was in breach of the terms and conditions of its domain registrar." One thing I was unable to find out was exactly why this action was taken – whether SOCA had been monitoring this and maybe other sites, or whether the music industry, say, was behind the move: the spokesman wouldn't go into details there.
I doubt that this action is something that will become common, because it depends on sites allegedly offering pre-release materials. I imagine that most sites hosting unauthorised music files are simply drawing on the copies floating around the Web – a crucial distinction as I understand it – and will be tackled using copyright law.
Still, this certainly sets a precedent for SOCA getting involved in this kind of case, not to mention adopting a rather threatening tone towards users; I look forward to finding out more about why this approach was taken, and whose idea it all was....