A SLOVAK CITIZEN made it into international media headlines recently. The reason for his notoriety is his part in an alleged crime that could result in him being sent to prison for at least 25 years. In a case that could represent a significant milestone in the fight against internet piracy, Július Bencko has been charged, along with executives of the file-sharing website Megaupload.com, with what US authorities say was widespread infringement of copyrights via the internet.
The US authorities on January 25 officially asked Slovak police to cooperate in the search for Bencko, a 35-year-old who worked as a graphic designer for Megaupload, police spokesperson Michal Slivka told the SITA newswire.
“If required, the Slovak police will cooperate with the American side on its further requests in a normal manner just as in other cases within the current valid legislation,” Slivka said.
The police have not yet arrested Bencko, who has not yet been listed in any database of persons wanted by the police or Interpol, Slivka added.
Bencko, according to the US authorities, earned at least $1 million (€0.77 million) with Megaupload as the graphic designer of the website, which was closed down on January 20. The US Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that the administrators of the site – Kim Dotcom, marketing director Finn Batato and technical director Mathias Ortmann – had been charged with fraud and causing copyright holders damage of least at $500 million (€388 million) and making illegal profits of at least $175 million (€136 million), the TASR newswire reported.
Gustáv Budinský, the executive manager of the Slovak IT Association (ITAS) told The Slovak Spectator that he does not expect the Megaupload case to significantly change the situation in terms of the widespread downloading of copied files, since the providers of such sites will become more careful and will try to find ways to avoid punishment.
However, he said the case would set “a precedent that will affect the way in which similar sites are operated”.
Lucia Rybanská from the legal department of SOZA, a group representing the interests of music copyright holders, said that several internet sites working under similar principles to Megaupload had already started to block their downloading services.
Hackers attack websites
The taking down of the Megaupload site resulted in an estimated 5,000 hackers associated with the group Anonymous attacking the servers of several American public bodies, including the US Department of Justice, the FBI and the US Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the internet sites of film and recording organisations such as the Motion Picture Association, the trade organisation of the American film industry which protects its copyrights, and Universal Music, SITA reported.
The US Department of Justice denied there was any connection between the hacking attacks and the anti-piracy laws known as PIPA and SOPA currently being discussed by the US Congress, which have already been opposed by big IT companies like Google, Facebook and Wikipedia. Anonymous also attacked government servers in Poland, demanding that the cabinet of Prime Minister Donald Tusk not sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, and warning that if it does the group will publish confidential information that its members have found on various websites, the Sme daily reported.
The ACTA treaty, designed to enforce intellectual property rights, has already been signed by eight countries. The Council of the European Union approved joining the new agreement at the end of 2011 during a meeting of ministers of agriculture and fisheries. Individual members states are now supposed to decide whether they want to ratify the treaty or not.
Critics say that the agreement will, in fact, restrict consumers’ privacy, civil liberties, innovation, the free flow of information on the internet, legitimate commerce and the ability of developing countries to choose policy options that best suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development, according to the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“ACTA is a controversial international treaty which pertains to the protection of intellectual property,” Budinský told The Slovak Spectator.
He explained that although the new treaty contains several measures welcomed by copyright owners, it also contains measures, such as compensation for damage caused, which exceed the legal framework of the EU and can be regarded as a violation of the protection of personal data.
Slovakia has not said whether it will ratify the treaty or not. The issue is to be discussed by the new government following the March general election, Sme wrote.
Rybanská said that although the existing Slovak copyright law states that every provider of an internet site offering files available for downloading, such as music, phone ringtones or archived programmes, has to have a licence to share data on the internet, new technology helps internet pirates to avoid these rules.
“The organisations protecting copyrights, which should have found clear measures in the Copyright Act to protect copyright on the internet, have only found out-of-date legislation that does not punish the new trends for sharing music files through electronic communication networks,” Rybanská told The Slovak Spectator.
The chair of the Slovak Association of Electronic Commerce (SAEC), Jozef Dvorský, said that he does not see any reason to make the current legislation more restrictive, considering it sufficient. But he pointed out that there is still space for improvement.
Dvorský added that even though he believes it is very difficult to identify people offering product downloads, there is no difference between them and, for example, shops selling replicas.
“There are the same problems, so I do not assume that the internet will make a marked difference in the way products are copied or falsified in the real world,” he told The Slovak Spectator.
Czech website faces lawsuit
News of the switch-off of Megaupload.com directed attention towards the Czech website Uložto.cz, which works on similar principles. The server, which allows users to download more than 13 million files and, after paying a fee, also to connect to RapidShare and get even more data, now faces a lawsuit filed in the courts by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) demanding the removal of protected content and legalisation of the services offered, Sme wrote.
However, one of the founders of Uložto.cz, Jan Karabín, said that the case of Megaupload is different from those of other internet sites working under similar principles. He told the Hospodárske Noviny daily that Megaupload, for example, did not erase files saved illegally in its databases, even after copyright holders requested deletion of their property from the website.
“It seems that their internal policy was significantly different from the one communicated externally,” said Karabín, as quoted by the daily.
30. Jan 2012 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová