The 70,000 daily visitors to popular music site RnBXclusive.com were met with a purposely terrifying message on Tuesday and part of Wednesday. The UK's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) took the site down, arrested its operator, and threw up a splash page that warned downloaders of "up to 10 years imprisonment." Thought statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement in the US were ludicrous? SOCA warns that downloaders from the site could face an "unlimited fine under UK law."
(Yeah, I had to do a double-take too.... the Serious OCA? is there an Un-Serious OCA?) Anyhow back to the story.
SOCA also showed users their own IP address and warned that "the above information can be used to identify you and your location," adding that "SOCA has the capability to monitor and investigate you, and can inform your Internet service provider of these infringements."
Didn't get the message? The warning goes on to say, "You may be liable for prosecution and that fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution."
SOCA announced separately on Wednesday that the rather theatrical warning (our judgment, not their words) would only stay up for 32 hours, apparently as a way to reach the site's regular visitors. (The notice has now been removed.)
"The website in question specialised in RnB and enabled access to music obtained by hacking, including some which had not yet been released," SOCA said in its statement. "[Global music trade group] IFPI estimates losses to legitimate businesses and artists caused by the site to be £15m a year. During the week running up to arrest phase the website had 70,000 users daily, mainly males aged 18 to 25 years."
The odd thing here is I don't really hear a lot of artists complaining. Labels yes, companies, no.
SOCA agents stress that they have "monitored responses" to the arrest and takedown, including watching people discuss it globally on Twitter. They claim that related sites have already cleaned up their act to avoid similar action.
While RnBxclusive.com might have been a hive a scum and villainy, SOCA agents hardly give the impression of acting as neutral agents of justice. The takedown was clearly pushed by the recording industry, which in itself is fine; all sorts of private parties complain to police when laws have been broken. But the SOCA warning page on RnBxclusive.com went well beyond a mere legal statement and warning.
"As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged," it said. "If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry." What a load. I personally know of artists who WANT their music distributed this way so they don't become another 'cube of ice' in the 'drink' of the recording industry.
The extraordinary statement—opening as it does with the frank admission that this is all unprovable ("may") and concluding with an odd remark (the "music industry" is hardly synonymous with the "recording industry" actually being assisted here)—sounds like the sort of moralizing argument that is more appropriately the domain of rightsholders than the police. The coppers then provide a link directing visitors to pro-music.org, a site actually run by the recording industry.
Even the US government, which we have criticized repeatedly for the process and errors behind their own "Operation In Our Sites" domain takedowns, has recently been a model of professionalism by contrast. Hmmm. What do you think?
By all means, police should enforce the law and the government should prosecute those who violate it. But there's a line between enforcing the law and becoming the publicly funded enforcement arm of a particular industry, uncritically promoting their loss estimates, arguments, and websites.
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