Digital Legal

SOCA takes RnBXclusive offline, arrests founders

By | Published on Wednesday 15 February 2012

A British music blog that posted, amongst other things, links to music files, many of them unlicensed, has been shut down by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. People visiting today will see a SOCA statement that says the UK government agency has taken control of the domain, and that the individuals who ran the blog have been “arrested for fraud”.

In a warning to RnBXclusive’s former users, the SOCA statement also notes: “The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists. If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law”. It also displays the user’s IP address, along with other details, and informs that this can be used to identify them.

It’s not the first time the UK authorities have taken action against the providers of unlicensed music content of course, though the most high profile action to date – against the operators of the Oink BitTorrent community – wasn’t exactly successful.

While some of those who used the service were successfully prosecuted for copyright infringement, the more important case – against the man who operated the site – failed. Rather than charging Alan Ellis with authorising infringement, the English law equivalent of contributory infringement, the copyright concept used to convict the founders of The Pirate Bay in Sweden, the authorities went with ‘conspiracy to defraud’.

That’s possibly because the ability of the ‘authorising’ principle under English law to make the providers of link services or file-sharing software liable for the infringement of their users is untested in court. It might also be because the penalties for conspiracy to defraud are much higher.

But the problem with the Oink case was that, in order to prove conspiracy to defraud, there needs to be evidence of a deliberate intent to profit at the detriment of another, ie the record companies, which simply couldn’t be proven, given Oink was an organic online community not run for profit. Whether the case for fraud will be stronger against the operators of RnBXclusive remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the file-sharing community is certain to object to the language used by SOCA in its warning statement – especially the threat of ten years in jail for simply downloading unlicensed content. Under the Copyright, Designs And Patent Act 1988 only distributors of unlicensed content themselves are liable for such a long sentence, so it’s not clear what SOCA is basing its claim on here.

And a prison sentence for simply accessing unlicensed content online would be unprecedented, so much so that it’s hard to imagine a court passing such a sentence, or indeed the Crown Prosecution Service ever even pursuing such a case. Perhaps SOCA knows something we don’t, though such bold statements only really help those who argue that current and/or new copyright laws carry penalties disproportionate to the offence.