PPUK – Why the Price of Justice is Too High for File-Sharing

Last week, the UK Pirate Party officially became a political party in Britain, this week, they have posted an interesting commentary on the price of justice if every file-sharer in the UK was caught and brought before the courts.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Already, one UK minister said that a so-called “three strikes” law is too draconian back in June, but more recently, a UK ISP tried to institute their own three strikes law. That case caused the Open Rights Group to describe the three strikes regime as “Guilt by accusation, punishment without trial“.

This may really ultimately be the core problem of a so-called three strikes regime – how many civil or criminal cases can see someone punished based on an accusation and without the option of going to court? What a three strikes regime has had a history of is trying to dodge the whole court system and skip right to punishing people based on an accusation essentially.

That’s what makes the latest blog posting on the UK Pirate Party’s website all the more interesting. In it, Andy R. discusses legal aspects of file sharing.

Back in June of 2008, a leaked letter said that the government was setting a goal of reducing file-sharing by 80%. When the Digital Britain report was issued later that month, that target ended up being 70%. By then, many in the file-sharing community were up in arms over the governments plans. Fast forward a year later, the British government wanted more time to reach that goal.

This was brought up as a key point in the UK Pirate Party’s posting. Under the presumption that a fair trial were to be brought up to the accused for each case, Andy R. had this to say:

Justice for those accused of file sharing will naturally require the opportunity for those accused to have an opportunity to see the evidence against them and challenge it in a court of law. To reduce file sharing by 70%, assuming 7 million people sharing 100 files each means dealing with 70% of 700,000,000 files. That’s 490,000,000 fair trials, or if, as has been rumoured there are to be two different offences, one for uploading, another for downloading, nearly 1 billion fair trials.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service say in their annual report that they dealt with 150,000 criminal cases and 2 million civil claims last year. Can they realistically be expected to cope with an additional 1 billion next year, and has their budget of £1,766,222,000 been expanded 500-fold to do so? The answer, quite simply is no.

The inescapable conclusion is that the government are not intending to fund the expensive luxury of justice for those accused of file sharing. We can only afford to have a system without justice, where simply being denounced by a copyright-holder is sufficient for summary punishment to be dealt out, and that summary punishment will be dealt out to 70% of 7 million people.

This is an extremely strong argument using basic math. After all, in the US, ever since Napster was shut down, there has been a rigorous lawsuit campaign against file-sharers by rights holders with, unsurprisingly, an emphasis on deterrent punishments. Andy’s argument is a very good highlight on why the copyright industry simply cannot go after every file-sharer and why there was a strong hope that deterrents would work – which they didn’t. It’s the simple principle many file-sharers have been aware of for years – safety in numbers.

Since the industry cannot scare people back into the music stores, it’s not a surprise that there is the strong push for a three strikes regime these days – to skip the expensive justice system altogether so they don’t litigate themselves into bankruptcy.

The problem of enforcing a three strikes law is that it doesn’t jive with the whole concept of justice in the first place – guilt upon accusation, punishment without trial. In order to enforce such a regime, the industry has the next to impossible task of trying to convince the public that the court system is no longer needed in cases of copyright infringement to justify a three strikes law.

Suddenly, those court rooms with those evil lawyers, corrupt judges and a disgrace of a legal system now becomes the file-sharers safety net. Quite the reversal of thinking in light of the US government siding with the RIAA and urging the judge to ignore arguments that the Jammie Thomas damages of $1.92 million in fines for many file-sharers aware of the political wrangling’s of copyright.

Given that the copyright industry in the UK is pushing – and pushing hard – for a three strikes regime in the UK and that many are realizing that the sought after three strikes regime involves the accused not being able to dispute the accusations in court, it’s not hard to figure out why there is a rise in the Pirate Party’s popularity these days. A political party that many see as impervious to the back room lobbying of the copyright industry to push through draconian copyright laws. As the threats grow for many who might – whether warranted or not – have their culture of the internet cut off, those people discover the real threat of human progress being pulled back by close to 25 years and all the benefits that came with the internet revolution.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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