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back to article Lawyers: We'll pillory porn pirates who don't pay up

A law firm from the southern German town of Regensburg has threatened to reveal the names of internet users whom it claims illegally distributed pornography over file-sharing networks – unless, that is, the accused pony up some cash. As reported by the English-language German newspaper The Local, the firm of Urmann and …

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Stop

How is this not extortion?

Regardless of whether the person has committed a crime (or breached the law in another way) or not, nothing has yet been proven.

Near as I can see from the article, and thinking of each individual case, there is a threat against the person, accompanied by a demand for money to make the threat go away.

Since the law firm is quite obviously a private concern, how is this not extortion (demanding money with menaces if you prefer)?

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Unhappy

Re: How is this not extortion?

It's not extortion because lawyers are doing it. And they are above the law.

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Re: How is this not extortion?

Whether it is, or is not, Blackmail is a very interesting question. Just this morning, I read a rather detailed blog on the subject, by Prof. Volokh, admittedly addressing US rather than German law.

http://www.volokh.com/2012/08/21/blackmail/

While I know little of German law, I can't help suspecting that the hints about prioritising "touchy cases" might prove to be their downfall.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How is this not extortion?

No different to government tax. You pay up or something bad happens to you.

Remember like most laws blackmail / extortion is only illegal if you are not one or more of :

Lawyer

Politician

Corporation

Police

Very wealthy

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Meh

Remember what happened

Remember what happened to the ACS Law here in the UK. Was it the demand letters or the way they were menacing that stuffed this firm.

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Anonymous Coward

Ze letter

Dear Sir/Madam,

You haf been found to haf been downloading ze dirty schmutty disgustings videos, 'hairy girl mitt two dogs', 'brunhilde und der sclossen dick', 'funf mal Marion und der slangensnakey' and. 'arsch target treffen'.

You vill pease pay uns €10,000 or ve vill publish your namenze on ze Internet. Your address vill also be added to identify you.

"Granma, what the fuck have you been watching!'

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Devil

Nice reputation you have, Squire...

... be a shame if anything happened to it, know what I mean...?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How is this not extortion?

In this case it is not a tax. A tax is just that, it's effectively a rent or payment of service. You don't think you own the roads or land do you? Do you pay the ambulances direct?

The lawyers here though have no proof that those involved received the service. Plus a tax for the copyright industry already exists in Germany AFAIK.

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Re: How is this not extortion?

Feels like extortion to me. The big hint is that this technique works equally well whether they have evidence or not, and in fact whether you've ever actually downloaded their crap or not.

They're relying entirely on the threat of the release of names - and the subsequent loss of reputation even if you exonerate yourself - to force payment. At that point it seems like you'd have to step in as a government agency, or the precedent you set is that anyone can get a settlement from anyone just by threatening to sue them frivolously for downloading embarrassingly fringe videos.

Threatening to go after diplomats from countries with touchy relations first can't possibly be the smart move, either. Yeah, let's more or less directly fire a shot at the government.

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Blackmail

Sounds like blackmail - demanding money with menaces or similar.

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Facepalm

Re: Blackmail

It would probably have been legal had they not put their foot in their mouths by specifying that they targeted 'touchy cases', thereby announcing that they were threatening reputations as a primary concern.

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Go

Herbert Anchovy Presents

BLACKMAIL

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Herbert Anchovy Presents

So it's better to be known as a murderer than someone who watches porn? I think your moral compass must be triangular, or something.

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...is why we in the USA have the 2nd amendment.

Can you imagine a lawyer daring to try to pull this crap in a society where most of their victims have firearms?

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Boffin

I would also point out that the supposed excess of firearms in the USA has done nothing to stop the likes of the MPAA and RIAA from engaging in similar tactics.

Also, Canada has more guns per person than the USA, yet a far lower rate of gun related violence. The firearms aren't the issue, its the culture.

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MrF
Megaphone

Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

Regarding your take on the benefits of an armed citizenry, listen up, freakshow:

(a) The 2nd Amendment was not created to ensure average folks could own guns -- or Ak-47s; or bazookas -- for pleasure, nor for hunting or any other of the usual 'traditional culture' excuses.

(2) How can I be sure of this? Easy -- because that's not what the 2nd Amendment says. It refers quite specifically to the maintenance of, 'a well-regulated militia'. Google that, bokay?

(3) And there's no evidence that gun ownership has any effect on violent crime much less white collar stunts like extortion or blackmail. Want to reduce crime? Educate your citizens, while keeping your town clean and affordable. Problem solved. You're welcome.

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FAIL

Really?

Why so many not-dead lawyers then?

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Facepalm

Re: Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

"could own guns -- or Ak-47s; or bazookas -- for pleasure, nor for hunting or any other"

Yet they do, don't they.

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Re: Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

I've always thought that the anti-gun lobby has missed a trick by not calling in the militia, on Superbowl Sunday.

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Paris Hilton

Re: undead lawyers

So many... because they're vampires?

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Headmaster

Re: Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

As MrF says, the 2nd Amendment does include the militia statement, the text is:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

BUT

There is no specification that the "bear arms" part depends on the preceding part being true. Indeed, in a legal sense, the "militia" part is *defined* as being true.

To extend it to an absurd degree, if the amendment said:

"The Moon made of green cheese, being necessary to the cheesiness of the heavens, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

...it would still apply.

The militia part is preamble, it provides background, but does not affect the applicability of the part about bearing arms. If we assume the writers of the 2nd amendment were not fucking morons, then we can assume they would have written something like:

"If a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

or...

"As long as a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

I think those writers realised how definite "shall not be infringed" sounds, I also think they would have specified if the right to keep/bear arms only applied to members of militias.

Of course, I am not an American judge, so continue as you were; my, or anyone else's, arguments probably won't change anyone's strong opinions on this matter.

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does anyone care?

This is about German lawyers, written on a UK site, where they are threatening court cases and not shooting so why as long as the US Government limit the issue of passports to below 10% of the population, would anyone in the EU care what their constitution says about personal arms.

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Coat

Re: does anyone care?

...because another commentard mentioned it?

Mine's the one that's a Captain Obvious costume when turned inside-out.

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Re: Canada

Canada also has much stricter laws on handgun ownership, possibly on other aspects of gun ownership and handling.

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Re: Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

>I've always thought that the anti-gun lobby has missed a trick by not calling in the militia, on Superbowl Sunday.

How this didn't get more upvotes, I'll never know. Maybe people don't understand US culture well enough to appreciate it. Brilliant in any case.

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@corestore

What, something like this?

That would obviously never happen in the US.

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FAIL

Re: Oh, joy -- our US gun nuts have reached El Reg.

Tell it to the Swiss.

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Facepalm

Re: does anyone care?

We need a variant of Godwin's Law, with the subject of the US Constitution being inevitably being introduced by someone, and the discussion becoming futile at this point.

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FAIL

Does this work the other way?

Can we post things on facebook, saying that my grandma said she received threatening letters, phone calls and late-night visits by men in ski masks from them and I'm thinking of taking them to court for extortion and racketeering?

Hehe, "potential opponent naming" protected by law.

This is not the way to do it. If you want to advertise like this, you should only be able to do so once the case has been filed and you should be required to keep the result of the case published in the same place for the same amount of time as you posted the advertising.

For some people, reputation is everything. What if the son of a surgeon downloads a slasher flick? How much damage to the surgeon will be done if patients think he's a fan of "the human centipede"? What if there is only one computer in the house? Yes, that's my computer; yes that film was downloaded to it and stored on the disk; no, it wasn't me that did it. How do you prove that? I have an always-on computer at home and a single login is shared with all the family - there's no way we'll bother to log in and out - the point of it is to be instantly available. I'm not buying a bigger house with study space for four computers with 27" screens and going IPv6-only just to please the MPAA. Even then, what happens when the offending file is found on a r/w shared filesystem? Have you just grounded your teenage daughter for staying out past 3am on a school night? I hope your computer is locked down tight, or it could be really embarrassing for you.

Perhaps what we need is a registry of proposed legal action. When a company want to take action like this, they have to post a bond of the amount demanded. If the defendant doesn't take the offer and the plaintiff doesn't win in (or go to) court, the defendant gets the cash.

The whole "ip address=person" and in a domestic situation, "computer=person" needs to be kicked into touch once and for all. Its a shame that tech has outstripped our ability to serve justice, but that is the reality in many cases. No pleading cries from collapsing business models will change that.

Having said that, I suggest not downloading porn. It damages your chances of actually having sex, never mind a long-term relationship, and it greatly increases the likelihood of your computer catching something nasty.

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Boffin

@P Lee: Re: Does this work the other way?

I was with you right up until your last paragraph when you uttered the nonsense "I suggest not downloading porn. It damages your chances of actually having sex, never mind a long-term relationship,"

May I succinctly say (and I'm speaking from not only personal experience here, but that of many of my customers who buy the BDSM gear I make and sell and who undoubtedly download and view porn): Bollocks!

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WTF?

Re: Does this work the other way?

"Having said that, I suggest not downloading porn. It damages your chances of actually having sex, never mind a long-term relationship, and it greatly increases the likelihood of your computer catching something nasty."

Could you expand on this flight of fancy.?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @P Lee: Does this work the other way?

"Bollocks!"

I wish to make clear that I am not a fan of CBT except when applied to lawyers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Does this work the other way?

"I suggest not downloading porn. It damages your chances of actually having sex"

Only if the sex involves another person...

(and, based on my experience with Mrs A/C, adding a carefully chosen and suitably tasteful piece of 'adult entertainment' to your evening viewing may even improve the chances of it being a tandem effort)

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Black Helicopters

Libel

Sounds like Libel to me.

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Re: Libel

That could very well be the response they're hoping for. To prove that such a statement was libel, you'd be required to prove that it was defamatory and false. Proving that someone didn't download porn illegally would be even harder than proving that they did (i.e. impossible).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Libel

Step 1: deliberately share innocuous files with the same name as the porn movies

Step 2: have your name published

Step 3: sue for libel

Step 4: profit!

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Re: Libel

In Germany, plaintiffs would only have to show that their reputation and/or livelihood has been damaged (it doesn't matter whether the allegation is true or false). It is not uncommon for people/businesses to sue former clients (and win) who have exposed their poor service or business practices in online forums or for negative feedback. If this bunch of lawyers get some policeman or priest sacked, they might get their copyright infringement cash but then they will have to pay for loss of earnings and emotional damage. I don't believe this will fly - German courts take privacy and reputation very seriously.

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Re(2): Libel

Nah. The punter would simply sue in the UK and you (the lawyer) would lose. End of story.

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FAIL

No way THAT could go wrong...

...because, as we all know, police officers and clergy are all computer security experts, so there's no possible way that any of them could, just as a hypothetical for-instance, be running an open wifi router. Nope, if it comes from their IP address, they MUST be the culprits; it's the only possible explanation!

And, naturally, that list of 150,000 names (or, surely, IP addresses?) can be relied upon absolutely. There's nary a mistake on it, I'm quite certain.

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Re: No way THAT could go wrong...

I was thinking the same thing. Won't the ambulance chasing sacks of kack get sued stupid by those on the list? Just because it is your IP address \ net connection or you pay the bill for it doesn't mean you are the only one to use it.

And seriously, a police station, how did they address the letter. Dear large building? If they approached the rozzers for the login attached to the ip at a given time I would have thought the police would have dealt with the (das?) rozzer via internal disciplinary measures anyway.

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Re: No way THAT could go wrong...

You can spoof headers to make it look like you are a proxy server for another destination. This apparently is good enough to fool iPlayer into allowing access from non-UK based computers. I haven't tried it as for me, a VPN connection back home is easier to set up, and has other benefits.

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Devil

Will German justice allow this? Like, couldn't (and shouldn't?) a judge disbar the entire legal staff if they do this. They're not even pretending it's a legal issue any-more. Eat the rich.

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Devil

arab nations

Can you imagine the shitstorm this.would create in the Arab nations if individuals are fingered. Head would roll, literally.

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Coat

Re: arab nations

Can you imagine the shitstorm this.would create in the Arab nations if ** individuals are fingered **

I believe it was this type of viewing they were interested in.

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Re: arab nations

not a chance. At least not the real culprits. They would likely blame it on their wife or the office cleaner and have them executed whilst continuing to download porn. Remember some (not all) of these countries don't let their women drive or leave the house unescorted because some of the men are such rampant perverts with no self control the women won't be safe, or at least I think that was the explanation. I always thought that was a much neater solution than something as absurd as punishing perverts.

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Joke

Re: arab nations

Fnar, Fnar, you said "fingered"

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Anonymous Coward

Not a good idea

If they pick the wrong people, the Lawyers will get the fear put in them, damage or dead.

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Anonymous Coward

It only takes one error..

.. to bring that method of extortion to come crashing down on them, which is why they go for the volume.

There will be enough victims (and yes, I call them victims) who will pay up because it's easier than suffer the reputational damage even though they may not have been aware their computer was part of a distribution network. But if even one of them has the funds to drag their sorry rear ends into court they will be toast.

(I'm assuming here that the German criminal justice system won't interfere, but given that Germany has effectively legalised data theft and even financially supports that crime I don't hold much hope there).

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Sounds familiar

Sounds a little like "speculative invoicing", as has been well and truly sorted in the UK courts and elsewhere. Either that or good ol' extortion under another name. Let's hope the German courts see sense and the victims realise it's little more than blackmail.

"Nice little business you got here. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it".

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Re: Sounds familiar

This has an added twist of blackmail, and by that I mean libellous accusation of wrongdoing without a court finding you guilty, for financial gain. I suspect this law firm may "suddenly go bust" but one very similar suddenly spring up in the same office building.

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