Police threaten RnBXclusive music downloaders with jail

SOCA's takedown of music-sharing site RnBXclusive and arrest of its proprietor on grounds of conspiracy to defraud, rather than under copyright-protection laws, has raised the possibility of tough prison sentences for file-sharers
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency has arrested a proprietor of RnBXclusive, a website that allegedly provided copyright-infringing music downloads, and has threatened anyone who downloaded music from the site with jail under fraud laws.

The arrest took place on Tuesday morning in Leicestershire and the person has been bailed, a SOCA spokesman told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. The site itself has also been taken down in agreement with the hosting provider, which is not based in the UK.

SOCA takedown notice

The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency has put up this takedown notice on the RnBXclusive website.

In the UK, copyright-infringing sites that are hosted overseas can be blocked from local audiences, but only through a court order forcing ISPs to do so. However, RnBXclusive was not targeted under copyright law, but rather conspiracy-to-defraud law, according to the spokesman for SOCA.

No court order was required because the hosting provider took the site down willingly, as RnBXclusive had broken its hosting terms and conditions, he added. The message posted by SOCA on the site was posted via a separate commercial agreement.

SOCA takedown notice

Those visiting the RnBXclusive site now find a SOCA message (above) stating that "the majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists" and threatening the visitor with criminal prosecution.

"If you have downloaded music using this website, you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law," the message states.

Showing the visitor their own IP address, the message goes on to say that "the above information can be used to identify you and your location", and saying the visitor may be liable for prosecution.

"As a result of illegal downloads young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you will have damaged the future of the music industry," the message states, before providing a link to a rights-holder website that promotes legal download services.

Digital rights campaigners have responded by saying the police agency's actions are a worrying development in the copyright enforcement saga.

"We've requested a meeting with SOCA so we can urgently assess the basis for this and future actions," Peter Bradwell, a campaigner with the Open Rights Group, said in a statement.

"Any attempt to crowbar copyright infringement into areas of law subject to much harsher punishments raises serious problems. Threatening internet users with 10 years in jail strikes one immediately as inappropriate at best," Bradwell said.

Jail threat

SOCA said any action against individual downloaders will be taken on a case-by-case basis, but it is indeed true that a person who has downloaded even one copyright-infringing track could face jail.

"If you knowingly download music that's been illegally obtained, then potentially there's a risk of prosecution under conspiracy to defraud," the police agency's spokesman said.

Fraud means making false representation to deceive the public, and shouldn't be bundled in with copyright infringement without proof.
– Lilian Edwards, University of Strathclyde

Legal expert Lilian Edwards was surprised at the police move, given that UK courts have set a precedent in the Newzbin2 case that rights holders can seek injunctions to block access to sites dedicated to copyright infringement.

"What I don't understand is why they're not following the Newzbin line," said Edwards, who is professor of e-governance at the University of Strathclyde.

"Now they've got clear precedent that you can go to go to the courts and get an injunction, why are they not using it? Without looking at the evidence yet, where is the fraud in this? Fraud means making false representation to deceive the public, and shouldn't be bundled in with copyright infringement without proof," Edwards told ZDNet UK.

Asked whether this is the first time SOCA has taken action of this kind over alleged copyright infringement, its spokesman said the agency had not dealt much with copyright in the past. However, part of the agency's remit is "to take action with partners that protect legitimate businesses from organised crime threats", he said.

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