• United States
by Ann Harrison

The Spanish resist P2P lawsuits

Aug 21, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Spanish firm prepares to sue 4,000 alleged illegal file traders

A legal services firm called Landwell reportedly claims that it will prosecute 4,000 Spanish file traders whom it has identified as “serious” copyright violators. This is the largest threatened action against European file traders, and the sources of the lawsuit are clearly concerned about a backlash by users who would boycott their products.

Landwell, which is a legal subsidiary of PricewaterhouseCoopers, is filing the suits on behalf of clients that want to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by consumers. Landwell claims that it has gathered the IP addresses of 95,000 file traders by accessing P2P systems with older versions of the P2P clients that don’t use encryption.

Landwell is reportedly working on the cases with Spain’s Technological Investigation Brigade (BIT) and says it will bring the lawsuits to court in September. The company has clearly learned a thing or two from the RIAA, which is in the process of filing hundreds of lawsuits against file traders in the U.S.

But civil liberties and Internet user groups charge that the cases are likely invalid under Spanish law. The actions could indeed be a scare tactic to lessen the use of P2P systems. We’ll see whether the Spanish file traders cave in under the threat. So far they are putting up a vigorous defense.

Carlos Sanchez Almeida, a lawyer specializing in Internet issues, has pointed out on the Spanish civil rights Web site Kriptopolis, that Article 270 of the Spanish penal code permits people to share files as long as they do not profit from the material. Aleida says this provision has caused previous P2P cases involving entertainment files to be thrown out of court.

Xavier Ribas, the principal Landwell lawyer on the case, has been quoted as saying that while people might not be selling the files, “profit” could be defined as acquiring a copyrighted work for free with “intent to profit.” This seems like a weak argument. But according to Ribas, 32 Spanish companies that manufacture software, or other material protected by Spain’s intellectual property laws, collectively reported the file traders to the Technological Investigation Brigade of the National Police.

Ribas claims that if users are still running old versions of P2P programs, the newer encrypted versions still negotiate with the old protocols and produce information about the type and number of files downloaded as well as the users’ IP addresses.

A Spanish senator, Félix Lavilla Martínez, has jumped into the fray noting that, according to Article 18.3 of the Spanish Constitution, private communication can only be intercepted when there is a court order. Martinez, who is from Soria and a member of the Senate’s Commission on the Information and Knowledge Society, says plaintiffs are breaking Spanish law if they don’t have judicial authorization to locate allege illegal files.

Ribas contends that the case would be heard by a Spanish criminal court in September and says Landwell will demand jail sentences of up to four years for each person convicted of software piracy. The plaintiffs say they will also seek compensation equal to the market value of each illegal file downloaded. They are claiming that P2P piracy in Spain has cost them more than 85 million euros ($96 million) over the past six months.

This threat against file traders has ignited angry protests in Spain. European Digital Rights (EDRI), a coalition of European digital rights groups, believes that case is insubstantial and will probably never make it to court. The group put out a statement saying that the threatened lawsuit was nothing more than an attempt to create fear among Spanish file traders.

Spain’s Association of Internet Users (Asociacion de Internautas) notes that even if Landwell has IP addresses, a judge would still have to issue an order to disclose the user’s identity and check to see if illegal activity is taking place. The association has called the complaints an “act of pure and simple cowardice” by a group of businesses “that don’t dare show their faces.” It has offered the group’s lawyers to anyone who is the target of the suits. Plus, in an interesting act of resistance, the organization has encouraged file traders to download software that lets them block the IP addresses of computers associated with the Spanish police and other law enforcement or anti-piracy groups. Ole (pronounced with an accent over the “e”), the Spanish have shown that they have the courage to organize and fight back against dubious P2P legal actions.