Fury in land of internet pirates over crackdown

Posted in Europe | 02-Apr-05 | Author: Stephen Castle| Source: The Independent

Aerial view of Stockholm. Tensions reached a new high when Sweden's anti-piracy bureau raided the offices of Bahnhof, a major internet service provider.

A copyright crackdown by Sweden's film and music industry has provoked a backlash, with the country's anti-piracy investigators suffering an attempted break-in, computer-hacking attacks and death threats.

Passions are running particularly high in Sweden because the affluent nation has one of the highest numbers of broadband users in the world, giving many people the opportunity to download full-length feature films in minutes.

Globally, piracy is estimated to cost the music and film business billions of pounds, but attempts to curb the scale of the practice in Sweden have provoked fierce opposition. The country's anti-piracy bureau, which is a private company supported by the industry, has been accused of creating a climate of fear and of using infiltrators to get access to groups of computer file-sharers.

Branded by one newspaper as Sweden's most hated man, the bureau's main spokesman, Henrik Ponten, has become the focus of hostility and his mobile phone number is listed on one file-sharers' website which depicts him in Nazi uniform.

Mr Ponten says that in Sweden 15 million films are downloaded illegally each year, almost as many as those that are purchased. He said yesterday: "I have been described as the most hated man in Sweden. I get threats: people call me up and say 'I know where you live'. We have had computer-hacking incidents and they have tried to break into our office. We have a very strange situation in Sweden where, when you try to follow the law, everybody ends up screaming at you."

Tensions reached a new high when the bureau raided the offices of Bahnhof, a major internet service provider. Not only do the two share the same building but the anti-piracy bureau is a Bahnhof customer.

Jon Karlung, the chief executive of Bahnhof, said: "Around 20 people arrived in the office, they turned my keyboard upside down. They were quite aggressive and some of the office clerks were very disturbed; it was like they were making an ambush. It was like a B-movie."

Mr Karlung, who says he does not condone breaking the law, says he has dismissed one staff member for malpractice. However, he claimed that the employee had been acting under the influence of one of the anti-piracy bureau's infiltrators. "It is a kind of Kafka scenario," he said, "they filled the server with material and then called the police. They use scare tactics. It is a kind of witch-hunt."

Mr Karlung dismissed claims that pirated music and film with more than three years of playing time had been seized, and said no charges have been brought by the police.

Whatever the outcome, the dispute has put Sweden's law and its enforcement under the spotlight. Mr Ponten blames politicians for failing to give a lead on the issue of piracy, allowing many people to believe that it is acceptable. "Some of the politicians even say that file-sharing is OK," he says.

Others say the high prices for downloads meanthere is an irresistible incentive to break the law. Mr Karlung says: "The new technological situation makes it impossible to keep the old business model. They should lower the price and maintain profits by selling more."