File sharing law worries lawyers

A proposal that would allow pop stars and filmmakers the right to find out the names of file sharers has been slammed by some lawyers, who say that the right could be abused to give businesses information about people's surfing habits.

Musicians, filmmakers and other copyright holders will soon have the right to be told the identity of people who share their material online. The plan is contained in a proposed new government bill shortly due to be put out for consultation. The law would make it possible for copyright holders to file civil law suits against file sharers.

Lawyers say that allowing copyright holders to access the identities of individuals would be a breach of people’s personal integrity.

Currently not even prosecutors can demand that the identity of a person suspected of illegal file sharing is revealed, as the crime is not seen as sufficiently serious to warrant the violation of people’s integrity. But according to the new proposal, those wishing to find out information about file sharers will not even have to go via a prosecutor.

“The problem is that it will be possible to get information about an individual. This decision goes against those principles which have so far applied in Sweden,” said Marianne Levin, professor of intellectual property law at Stockholm University.

Daniel Westman, a researcher in law and informatics at Stockholm University says that the proposal raises questions about personal integrity.

“It is fundamentally a political judgment about how various interests should be weighed against each other. The integrity aspect is handled in an unclear way in this case,” he said.

Justice Minister Beatrice Ask said she wanted to underline that the proposal was so far only out for consultation.

“The problem is that we are handling questions in a new are, where there are currently no rules which work sufficiently well. I feel that to make this a matter for civil law could be better than making it a matter for [criminal] courts, which is the option currently available. But proportionality – that the rules should correspond to the seriousness of the act that has taken place – always applies. I will need to weigh various views when we present a final proposal,” Ask said.

According to the proposal currently on the table, the copyright owners will have to present proof that a violation has taken place from a particular internet subscription. It will then be up to a court to decide whether the identity of the subscriber should be released.

“I can see a danger that it will be abused. Somebody could fabricate evidence, something that would be hard for a court to detect as there would be nobody arguing against them – no other party disputing the release of personal information. There is a risk that the law might be used for example to reveal the identities of people spreading unpalatable opinions over the internet,” said Westman.

Ask denied that the law could be used for unwarranted privacy invasions.

“Proof will be required that a violation has taken place. Case law will determine what is required.”