Copyright vs. privacy

EU court to rule on porn trolls

A shell company from Cyprus pursues users across Europe for alleged illegal downloads of smutty flicks. Now their business model is about to get a reality check from the European Court of Justice.

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Porn: big business online Gemeinfrei netzpolitik.org

The European Court of Justice (EJC) is set to rule on a landmark case pitting copyright against privacy. A shell company based in Cyprus has sued internet providers in Belgium for the identity of users it alleges to have downloaded pornography, thus infringing on the company’s copyright.

One provider, BVBA Telenet, is locked in an ongoing court battle with the shell company.

Recently, an Antwerp court referred the case to Strasbourg. The EU judges have to decide whether the ability of right holders to protect their work outweighs the privacy rights of those accused of illegally downloading the films, writes the Global Data Review, who first reported the case.

The ruling could bring an end to copyright trolling. A copyright troll is a party that enforces copyrights for purposes of making money through litigation, in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic, according to the definition on Wikipedia.

The Belgian case was brought forward by M.I.C.M. Mircom, based in Nikosia, Cyprus. The firm owns rights for pornographic films from the US and Canada, however it only secured the rights to distribution via peer-to-peer networks such as Bittorrent.

Business model ‚based on piracy‘

Mircom pursues users across Europe. In the United Kingdom, the company recently lost a case similar to the Belgian one in front of the High Court. Meanwhile, German and Swedish users received legal threats from Mircom’s lawyers, according to other law firms.

The point of contention were films such as „My Moms Best Friend“ and „Girls kissing Girls 15“.

The Belgian court told the ECJ that Mircom’s business model „depends on the existence of piracy rather than on combating it“. It asked the EU judges whether such companies should have the same rights as creators or other distributors of creative work.

The case could help to „clean the market of trolls“, says Benoit Van Asbroeck. The Belgian lawyer represents the provider BVBA Telenet in court against Mircom. „It is a political case“, he says.

It is unclear who is behind Mircom. The company has no website or phone number. The company register in Cyprus lists another shell at the same address as company director.

Our attempts to contact the company were unsuccessful. Law firms retained by Mircom in Germany did not return our e-mails, neither did the company answer a telegram we sent to Mircom’s postal address in Cyprus.

An end to the „Abmahnindustrie“

The case is of particular interest in Germany. Over the past years, law firms have demanded cash payments from thousands of German users for alleged copyright violations while swapping files over the internet.

The Germans call this the „Abmahnindustrie“, the „caution industry“, because letters warn of a lawsuit if users don’t pay up.

Such forms of copyright enforcement could be stopped by the ECJ, says Ulf Buermeyer with Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, a civil liberties NGO. German copyright law currently gives right holders a basis for demanding information about users via the courts.

But if the EU court curtails such practices, German courts would have to follow suit, says Buermeyer.

The European Court of Justice will take up the case over the next few months. A hearing is expected after the summer of 2020. Then judges will be able to look into copyright trolling – and ponder flicks such as „My Moms Best Friend“.

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