Why Did UK Anti-Piracy Group FACT Get Computers From A Criminal Investigation... And Keep Them?

from the that-doesn't-seem-right... dept

Last month, we wrote about the lawsuit brought by UK anti-piracy industry group FACT against the company Scopelight and its founders for running a video search engine called Surfthechannel.com. Considering it was simply a video search engine and pointed to content that was both authorized and unauthorized, we wondered how FACT could tell a legit search engine from an illegal one. However, more details on the case are coming to light, and the whole thing seems questionable. Someone, who prefers to remain anonymous, sent along the news that the lawyers for Scopelight have now won the first battle against FACT, and the full decision reveals some rather troubling details about how closely FACT -- a private industry group -- collaborated with the police in the initial investigation, and then FACT's own actions after the police investigation concluded.

It's already troubling enough that a private industry group, involved solely in activities designed to protect a business model, was allowed to work so closely with police in a criminal investigation. FACT alerted the police to potential illegality at Scopelight, which is fine, but from then on FACT was intimately involved in the criminal investigation. When the owners of Scopelight, Anton Benjamin Vickerman and his wife Kelly-Anne Vickerman, had their home raided by the police... FACT came along for the investigation. Not only that, but they had their own private investigator copy information from the Vickerman's computers (exactly what and how much was copied is apparently in dispute). When the Vickerman's were questioned by the police, FACT members took part in the questioning.

It seems troubling enough that private industry reps were allowed to be so closely involved in a criminal investigation where they have clear bias, but it gets worse. The police seized various computers and equipment as part of arresting the Vickerman's, and then allowed FACT employees to inspect the computers and the information found on them -- which, again seems to be granting way too much access to a private group. Then things got even more bizarre: the police gave a bunch of the equipment to FACT to allow FACT to continue to examine the equipment.

A few months after the original raid, investigation and arrest, the police decided that there wasn't enough for criminal charges, and decided not to prosecute the Vickerman's. The police told the Vickerman's their property could be returned, so the Vicerkman's lawyers contacted FACT asking for the equipment back, at which point FACT refused, claiming it was holding onto the equipment because it was considering bringing a civil suit against the Vickermans -- which it eventually did bring.

So beyond the rather stunning close working relationship between the police and a private industry group on a criminal investigation, including handing over evidence to a private party, once the police decided not to prosecute, that private party decided to keep the computer equipment and use it for a civil suit. Thankfully, the court has ruled that this latter decision was improper, and the moment the police decided not to prosecute, the equipment should have been returned. So while this is a victory for Scopelight, it's still a rather stunning revelation of how closely integrated a private industry organization is with criminal investigations, and certainly raises questions as to why such a group should get such access.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 9:49am

    All I can say is...

    ...WOW! That is just a stunning abuse of police power. Look for similar to start happening in the US soon.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    RD, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:20am

    Yeah

    Yeah sadly, the UK is absolutely ridiculous with police and govt powers. Now those powers are being extended to whoever is "in good" with them and/or bought them. We can only hope that doesnt happen here (US), but where money and power are involved, I wouldnt count on anyone looking out for the rights of the citizens.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Cole, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:21am

    The RIAA is no different

    It is indeed crazy that these lobbyist organizations are treated as law enforcers. The RIAA and other anti-piracy outfits are no different.

    See: http://torrentfreak.com/riaa-victim-or-prosecutor-080913/

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    doubletrouble, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    what did surfthechannel say?

    You've run 2 stories about STC/Scopelight but there's no quotes from the people involved. Did you just accept what Mr Anonymous said without question? Seems so to me.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:35am

    Doesn't the UK have any rules about how evidence should be handled? In the US, I'd think that handing over evidence to a private company with no official authority, would completely invalidate the evidence.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:42am

    Re: what did surfthechannel say?

    Did you just accept what Mr Anonymous said without question? Seems so to me.

    Mr. Anonymous didn't say anything. He sent a link to the actual ruling which I linked to above and which has all the details.

    Are you suggesting that something is incorrect?

     

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  7.  
    icon
    Designerfx (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:53am

    Re: what did surfthechannel say?

    I'd say he read the legal decision at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2009/958.html which was linked.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Gabe, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Re: evidence

    I agree. Give me someones computer and I can make it look like they did anything I want. This goes double to someone that I am bringing a court case against.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:09am

    Re: what did surfthechannel say?

    It's ok, not everyone is good at reading.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:16am

    Re:

    Doesn't the UK have any rules about how evidence should be handled? In the US, I'd think that handing over evidence to a private company with no official authority, would completely invalidate the evidence.

    The police had already decided to drop the criminal case and the rules for civil cases are much looser.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Pogo, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Open Market

    So while this is a victory for Scopelight, it's still a rather stunning revelation of how closely integrated a private industry organization is with criminal investigations, and certainly raises questions as to why such a group should get such access.

    So they bought influence, big deal. The police are simply following capitalistic principles and selling out to the highest bidder. That's the way open markets work. Haven't you heard of capitalism? There's no such thing as too much of that.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    The baker, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:33am

    Interesting tidbit in the above linked judgement.

    Deep within the document there is this sentence:

    "That claim is defended on two bases: first, it is said that such a claim cannot be made by way of a claim for conversion, which is the only cause of action relied on, since information is not property which can be converted."

    Do I read this right, the judge says that "information is not property" that can be stolen.

    Those of you more versed in the law could comment of the ramifications of that.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Mechwarrior, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:39am

    Re: Interesting tidbit in the above linked judgement.

    Its obvious that the ramification is that it will DESTROY US ALL.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:42am

    Re: Open Market

    Since when is capitalism and abuse of government power the same thing? You are making a straw man argument here.

     

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  15.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 11:50am

    Re: Re:

    "The police had already decided to drop the criminal case and the rules for civil cases are much looser."

    Um, they had the computers *before* the prosecuter decided to drop the case. Hell, that may be WHY they decided to drop the case, once they noodled it through.

    Are the civil rules THAT much laxer? It'd make me suspect every civil judgement if so.

     

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  16.  
    icon
    chris (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 1:21pm

    viking lawsuits FTW

    so, you can sue someone and just take their computers? that's awesome. i should time my class action lawsuit against bestbuy to coincide with the release of left4dead2.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Pogo, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Re: Open Market

    Since when is capitalism and abuse of government power the same thing?

    Erm, I didn't claim that it was abuse at all. Just the opposite in fact, so why are you making up that strawman?

    You are making a straw man argument here.

    Heh, first you make one, and then you see one where there wasn't. I don't think you even know what a strawman argument is. Hint: it isn't just anything you disagree with.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawman_argument

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Um, they had the computers *before* the prosecuter decided to drop the case.

    Um, you don't know that. They may have had the computers before the gov't *informed* Scopelight they were not prosecuting, but that's a different thing. I suspect the gov't decided to drop the criminal case, gave the equipment to FACT, and then informed Scopelight.

    Are the civil rules THAT much laxer? It'd make me suspect every civil judgement if so.

    Yes, they are. And you're right to be suspicious.

     

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  19.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 2:34pm

    Nonsense

    I don’t know how British law works, but if this had been in the USA, the Vickermans would have been well within their rights to refuse to grant FACT access to their property during the police search. A search warrant only allows the police or other governmental entity to search private property, not other private citizens. Indeed, even the judge signing the warrant has no legal authority to grant one private citizen the right to search another private citizens property, or even to be present during the search.

    This issue has come up before with camera crews for that COPS show. In a few cases, property owners have objected to the presence of the TV show’s camera crew and ordered them out of their home and off their property, asserting (correctly) that just because the police have a legal right to be there, that doesn’t mean anyone else who feels like it can wander into their home and being a TV camera crew confers no special right to trespass on private property. The police refused to bar the camera crews and continued to allow them to film, after which the property owner sued both the TV show and the police for various civil wrongs, including invasion of privacy and trespass, and in each case the property owner was victorious. Now the COPS crews are fully briefed that they must leave immediately if the property owner tells them to, even if that property owner is on the floor in handcuffs while being arrested for drug possession at the time.

    As for FACT conducting interrogations with the cops, I’d have just told them to go take a flying leap. I probably wouldn’t even be answering the cops’ questions without my lawyer present. If I’m not going to talk to a cop, I’m sure as hell not going to talk to some goon from a RIAA wanna-be group.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Nonsense

    I don’t know how British law works, but if this had been in the USA, the Vickermans would have been well within their rights to refuse to grant FACT access to their property during the police search. A search warrant only allows the police or other governmental entity to search private property, not other private citizens.

    My personal experience with this says otherwise, at least in the case of contractors. I (through my employer) have previously been contracted by US federal law enforcement agencies to accompany them to execute search warrants and provide technical assistance in searching computer equipment. I don't go busting in the door with them, but after they have secured the place they come back and bring me in for the technical part. These agencies have always said (on advice from the US Attorney General) that this is legal and the evidence thus gathered has never been excluded from court because of it. I would be interested in knowing of any cases to the contrary.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Re:

    The rules may be looser, but not THAT loose. They were ordered to return the equipment, yet they refused to do say because they were filing a civil suit? No. That's still illegal.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    They were ordered to return the equipment, yet they refused to do say because they were filing a civil suit? No. That's still illegal.

    And have they now been arrested?

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 7:22pm

    Does anyone know the status of law in the U.K. concerning overly broad confiscation of computer equipment? I know that the U.S.A. courts ruled on the SJ Games case in the early 90's, but would it be possible for this couple to claim similar rights?

     

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  24.  
    icon
    techflaws.org (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:41am

    Same story in Germany

    "When the owners of Scopelight, Anton Benjamin Vickerman and his wife Kelly-Anne Vickerman, had their home raided by the police... FACT came along for the investigation."

    Same happens with GVU, the "Gesellschaft für die Verfolgung von Urheberrechtsverletzungen" (organisation to prevent copyright infringements). This private organisiation tips off the police and is allowed to participate in the raids, they even are asked to be consultants or expert witnesses since they know so much about the topic. They've even been know to host warez servers to crack down on downloaders.

     

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  25.  
    icon
    washii (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 2:47pm

    Re: Re: Nonsense

    Though this is late:

    If you were contracted by a law enforcement agency, as An Advising Expert, sure, your stuff is admissible.

    The point here is that FACT doesn't seem to be brought in as Advising Experts, and even took their own stuff that didn't go into evidence with the agents. They don't get to take the data, it must be 'recovered' by an agent in the execution of the warrant.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Ninja, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 7:27pm

    Fail

    Those people from FACT and merry friends were directly involved in the lawsuit. They and anyone connected to the phonographic industry should act as counselors or tech help if they are the ones moving the actions. The targets are electronic devices? Call an expert in that. You need help to find evidence, call an expert to do that. Not the ones prosecuting. Worse, material seized from whoever is only entitled to be held and kept by the police. Any examination should be done within the police department premises and under careful monitoring by the police itself. Yet, his computers were given to the ones that were actually prosecuting him.

    I do not know about UK laws but I doubt they are stupid enough to allow what happened. In any case, the FileSoup owner has been arrested these days and suffered all kinds of problems and human rights violations. The prosecutor? FACT.

    The clear message here is: "we want you to respect copyright laws and give us your money, but we won't respect neither laws nor fundamental human rights". Anyone up for some downloading party?

    Gestapo, guerrilla, FACT, RIAA, terrorists... In the end they are all the same rotten product that use different packages. And they will do whatever to have it their way.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Ninja, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 7:28pm

    Re: Fail

    Correcting my previous post, they SHOULD NOT act as counselors. My bad.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Emmanuel Goldstein, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 2:25am

    Fascism

    Yes, really, this is actually the definition of Fascism (the political system, not the adjective synonymous to being repressive).

    “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”
    --Benito Mussolini

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2012 @ 11:10am

    Of COURSE FACT had to hold onto the computers...how else were they going to install 'guilty' files etc onto the hard drive otherwise? MAGIC?????

    Jeez some people.

    After all, you can't make an omlette without maliciously incriminating someone with planted evidence on their PC.....

    I thought everyone went to the RIAA school of criminal investigations????

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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