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Online integrity: New threats of fines for Swedish pirates

Maximilian Holm, about Online Privacy

There is a hurricane looming on the horizon in Sweden's Internet climate after the verdict against Bredbandsbolaget just over a week ago. After the now-defunct attempt from Spridningskollen to send out claims letters to pirates, it is now time for a Danish law firm, Njord, to make new attempts at recovering damages from file-sharing. According to data, thousands of Swedish file-sharers will be subject to new claims letters in the coming months.

Integritet på nätet

Spridningskollen 2.0?

During the aftermath of the verdict against Bredbandsbolaget, which we wrote about earlier in February, comes new attempts at hunting pirates.

In September of last year, Spridningskollen launched with the goal of sending out claims letters to Swedish pirates. They received a huge amount of criticism which culminated at the end of October 2016 with their announcement that they would stop their hunt for pirates. However, the joy was short lived for advocates of a free Internet, and Breakit is now writing about a renewed commitment from a Danish law firm.

Njord Lawfirm is the law firm that chose to take up the hunt for Swedish file sharers this time, which is something they have done previously in Denmark, Norway and Finland. The goal of the hunt is - just like with Spridningskollen - to send claims letters of between SEK 2000-3000 to Swedish file sharers. The difference from before, however, is that Njord Lawfirm now has support in the verdict against Bredbandsbolaget, which made the argument that an Internet service provider has a legal responsibility to prevent file sharing.

The request for information were received between February 10 and February 13, and contain the IP addresses of thousands of potential Swedish file-sharers. Telia, which previously stated they would stop saving customer logs, has been temporarily banned from deleting logs with a penalty of SEK 200,000 if they violate the ban.

“The first time we received such a request we appealed it, because we do not think that sacrificing our customers' integrity is in proportion to the crimes that are alleged to have been committed. Unfortunately, we lost. We must follow court decisions ”- Aron Samuelsson, press director of Bredbandsbolaget.

Risk of greater impact

There are two obvious arguments that suggests that the hunt for file sharers this time may have greater impact than Spridningskollen:

  • They now have support in the Swedish court, which earlier in February decided that Swedish Internet providers are responsible and thus have a legal compulsion to prevent copyright infringement.
  • Njord Lawfirm has more experience through their previous experience hunting pirates in Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Backed by court decisions and legislation

Spridningskollen came like a flash from clear skies. It was also a publicity flop, suggesting that they were unprepared to deal with the criticism that had to face.

The Internet service provider Bahnhof was strongly critical of Spridningskollen and ran several campaigns that claimed that Spridningskollen itself infringed on copyright by not trademarking "Spridningskollen". Bahnhof had, in fact,  trademark protected "Spridningskollen" itself in an attempt to show its customers how they approach the issue.

The big difference today is that Njord has court decisions and greater demands on internet providers to support their hunt. With increased risk for fines, it is less likely that Internet service providers will cross the line when Njord wants to find out which customers used the IP addresses in question. Obviously, it is no coincidence that Njord submitted their letters of demand on the 10th of February, as the verdict against the Bredbandsbolaget came in mid-February. In other words, they had very little to lose, and everything to gain - regardless of the outcome of the verdict.

Njords earlier experiences

In addition to the fact that Njord can learn from the mistakes of Spridningskollen, they have also previously run similar campaigns in Denmark, Norway and Finland, which have had greater impact than Spridningskollen given that claim letters have already been reported in Norway. With these experiences behind them and considering that Njord's Jeppe Brogaard Clausen expresses himself as running the campaign "enlightening, and as collected as possible", it testifies that they are better prepared than Spridningskollen to run a claim letter campaign against piracy.

What happens next?

It is still unclear exactly how many IP addresses are subject to a claims letter, but if Njord's campaign proves more effective than Spridningskollen, they will undoubtedly continue to tighten the snare on file-sharers. In our previous blog post regarding the verdict against Broadband 2, we asked the question how many verdicts and decisions are required for Sweden to establish a Chinese firewall. Njord's campaign is a clear example of the cascading effect in the wrong direction a verdict can lead to. Just as the verdict against Bredbandsbolaget in reality will have little impact on file sharing since the block is technically easy to circumvent, we now ask whether this creates increased awareness and increased use of VPN services and proxies to download anonymously.

Even though these are extremely worrying times for the Internet in Sweden, it still seems that technological solutions will always find loopholes in the problems created by legislation and verdicts.

Maximilian Holm