Police play up the antics of the Karaoke gang

seven_bttf_minor_04The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) hit the headlines  claiming to have dismantled an evil gang “suspected of uploading and distributing tens of thousands of karaoke tracks online.”

PIPCU’s press release says “hundreds of albums have had their copyright uploaded by the men, leading to thousands and thousands of tracks being accessed illegally and depriving legitimate music companies of a significant amount of money.”

However the police’s dramatic claims have been questioned when it turned out that the three turn out to be three middle-aged blokes who are making tracks of songs which are not commercially available.

The “gang” KaraokeRG, said on its website “they were created primarily because they are not available from any professional karaoke manufacturers.” So no one is losing money on anything because the music companies are not providing a profit to lose money on.

KaraokeRG website did not sell any tracks and made them available for private use only and not intended for commercial use. So no-one has lost any money, no-one has been injured by the gang and there was nothing criminal taking place.

So why did the PIPCU go mental about the outfit, how is this considered a good use of taxpayer’s money, and why criminalise people for a harmless hobby?

The police press release quotes John Hodge, the British Phonographic Industry’s (BPI) Internet investigations chief, as saying, “Instances of commercial-scale copyright infringement are not exempt from investigation and anyone found to be facilitating such illegal activity is not immune from prosecution”.

So in other words the PIPCU is a tax payer funded enforcement arm for big content, and we all know how reasonable they are. But a phrase in the press release echoed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was thrown out by the European Parliament in 2012 and the even more controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

According to the TPP rules, “any act of willful copyright infringement on a commercial scale renders the infringer liable to criminal penalties, even if they were not carried out for financial gain, provided that they have a substantial prejudicial impact on the rightsholder. You can be sent to prison for sharing files online even if no money was involved—exactly the kind of disproportionate punishment that the copyright industries have been wanting and never got.”

Fortunately for KaraokeRG, the European Commission explicitly excludes “criminal sanctions” in this area, and the trio will only go to jail if they make the mistake of ever going to the US. It will be interesting to see if the KaraokeRG gang have the stomach to take this to the European court where there is a good likelihood it will be thrown out.