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.

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    btr1701 (profile), 7 Jul 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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