VPN use in Australia has recently soared, at least part in thanks to a high profile Federal Court ruling forcing ISPs to hand over the details of over 4,700 customers accused of pirating the movie Dallas Buyers Club.
Despite concerted attempts by ISP’s to defend their customers’ privacy, a similar situation has developed in Singapore. Recently the Singapore High Court sent most of the city-state’s ISPs a demand to hand over the details of some 500 individuals whose IP addresses have been identified with allegedly downloading the Oscar winning movie.
ISPs that have received the court order currently include M1, Singtel, and StarHub. It is understood that these have (or will) comply in full. On Saturday, ISP MyRepublic told ZDNet that it had not yet received such a demand, but that if it did, then its options might be limited,
“While the privacy of our subscribers is of paramount importance to us, we will need to understand the court order first–should we receive one–before assessing if we will comply.”
An interesting aspect of this case is that, as Australia has just done, the Singapore government is proposing mandatory data retention laws that will oblige ISP’s to log and store exactly the kind of information requested by Dallas Buyers Club’s producer, Voltage Pictures, LLC, in this case.
How did they get caught?
The accused individuals allegedly downloaded Dallas Buyers Club using the BitTorrent protocol. This person-to-person (P2P) filesharing protocol is a very efficient and decentralized way to share files (such as movies) between users, but a clue to its weakness lies in the terms P2P and filesharing.
Because files are shared, all users sharing a particular file, whether downloading (leeching) or uploading (seeding) – both usually occur simultaneously and are necessary aspect of the technology – can see the IP addresses of everyone else sharing the same file. This makes identifying the IP addresses of downloaders almost trivially easy for copyright enforcers.
So what can I do about it?
Using a good VPN service protects downloaders in two important ways:
- Because a user’s internet connection between their computer and the VPN server is encrypted, their ISP cannot know what they get up to on the internet
- Anyone tracing the IP address of a downloader from the internet (as in the above picture), will only see the IP of the VPN server, not the users true IP address.
What will happen to those caught?
If events in the United States are anything to go by, accused could face compensation demands of up around $7000 USD to avoid threats of further legal action (this practise is known as ‘speculative invoicing’, and has become something of a scourge in the US).
What should I do if caught?
Those unlucky enough to receive a compensation demand from Voltage should probably not panic. According to Wendy Low, “a lawyer from Rajah & Tann who has been contacted by some alleged infringers for legal advice”, it is unlikely that Voltage will pursue matters in court due to the high legal costs involved,
‘The damages recoverable may be pegged to the price of a licensed movie download or a DVD, and this may outweigh the legal fees and investigation costs involve.’
Matt Pollins, digital media lawyer at Olswang Asia, was more cautious, warning that accused who simply ignore the demands may do so at their peril. He notes if Voltage did pursue the accused into court, the result remains very uncertain,
“Some customers certainly will argue that they were not the ones who downloaded the movie, but whether this argument succeeds or not remains to be seen. Some may argue they were not responsible for the downloading or uploading via their IP address and that it was a neighbor or friend. Ultimately, this would be a matter for a court to decide… This is a ground-breaking case in Singapore and there is no real benchmark for what the level of damages would be.”
These developments in Australia and Singapore are likely to be deeply troubling to committed BitTorrent downloaders, and our hearts go out those caught up in the furor. We also strongly advise all downloaders to protect themselves with a good VPN service if they wish to avoid becoming victims of Voltage and its ilk, as this is a practice that is only likely to continue in developed nations that bow down to respect restrictive Western IP laws.
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