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The Grotesque Art of Copyright Enforcement

Until now the campaign by the copyright enforcement industry has been unfolding at a low, if relentless, intensity. Most of the victims of their litigation strategy have paid up manageable sums ($3000) to placate them, and the lawyers move on to someone else. Two events in the last six weeks throw suggest that people will now start to take a tougher attitude towards the industry.

In the United States, Jammie Thomas, a woman who elected to fight the RIAA’s claims lost her case before a jury who found her guilty of willful copyright infringement (punishable by a fine of up to $150,000), and has been fined $222,000 for sharing music on Kazaa. The damages award was made on the basis of her making available 24 songs (priced at $9250 each), and thus violated the exclusive right of distribution of a copyrighted work, although the RIAA alleged she was sharing 1700 tracks. She denied all the charges against her. Responses to the story from readers of the BBC website provide some insight into the public reaction, which is negative to say the least. Little surprise then to hear industry lawyers wail about how they are ‘reluctant litigators‘ and that there is already speculation that they damages will never in fact be collected. A brief video is also available here. Comprehensive documentation of the case is available at the Recording Industry v The People blog where you will also links to external commentary from tech sites and news organizations. Wired also followed the trial assiduously. You can read the Electronic Frontier Foundation response at their blog.


But at the end of the day money is money, in Greece however the copyright enforcement campaign may have claimed a life on August 18th. I missed the news at the time, so cheers to jaromil for bringing it to my attention. Tony Onouha was a 27 year old Nigerian immigrant who sold DVDs and CDs on the street in Thessaloniki. Details as to what happened are contested. While selling CDs in an internet cafe he encountered two men, allegedly plain cloths police who had beaten him previously for selling CDs. He was chased into another building and then fell or jumped out a first floor window to his death. Police deny that they had any officers in the area at the time, and say they are searching for the two individuals. Operations against bootleggers are commonplace in Greece. The incident provoked four days of clashes between the police and local nigerians and greeks outraged at his death. More detailed information is available here.

While the facts have still to be clarified as to what exactly happened to Tony Onouha, there is no doubt about the copyright industry driving the Greek authorities hard for a crackdown on street-sellers. The following is from the International Intellectual Property Association’s 2007 Report to the US Trade representative in advance of the issuance of the annual Special 301 Report which sets out US IP policy on an international level:

“Music and record piracy: The recording industry reports that physical piracy in Greece grown tremendously and the music industry is suffering from the continuous drop of sales, and that situation did not improve in 2006. Physical piracy rates have increased during the last five years: over 98% of total pirated music discs are burned CD-Rs. Instances of industrial pressed pirate CDs are rare, and those usually contain international repertoire. … The piracy rate for U.S. repertoire is estimated to be close to 60% of the market. It appears that the majority of people involved in most of the infringing actions are African immigrants, and especially Nigerians. The Nigerians have gradually taken control of the whole piracy chain, starting with duplication and wholesale distribution and ending retail sale (this is similar to the situation in Spain). These criminal networks continue to flourish because the Greek Government does not strongly apply its immigration laws and the judicial system does not effectively deal with copyright offenses.”

(page 258)

and later…

“EPOE believes that the Greek police are working hard and making arrests. Unfortunately, the vendors, typically immigrants, usually walk free the very same day with a meager three month jail sentence that is suspended pending appeal (usually filed immediately). In Greece, there is no record of prior convictions as prior records listings are updated only after a criminal Court sentence has become irrevocable. Consequently, street vendors often times have many unlisted previous convictions and are let go with light, suspended sentences. They never pay a fine, nor spend a day in custody or jail. Reports suggest that the Greek police are similarly frustrated with this result. EPOE also suggested that if the street vendors – who never show up for their appeals – were required to pay bail pending the hearing before the appellate Court, we might see some significant results. The industries understand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intends to introduce legislation whereby immigrant street vendors engaged in any copyright violation will be deported and that Greek Embassies worldwide will be notified so that new visa requests by copyright violators will be denied.”

(page 261)


October 5, 2007 - Posted by | /, copyright, enforcement

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