Exceptionally Troubling Ruling In The UK: Owners Of Links Site Guilty Of 'Conspiracy To Defraud'

from the how-so? dept

We've written about the entertainment industry's overly aggressive legal campaign against the owners of SurfTheChannel -- a linking site -- before. Almost exactly three years ago, we wrote about how the private UK anti piracy group, FACT, had helped set up the raid on the offices of Scopelight, a startup creating search technologies. This wasn't a typical police raid: FACT (again, a private organization representing private companies) was allowed to come along for the raid. Scopelight built SurfTheChannel as a search engine that could find video. Some of that video was authorized, some of it was not. However, the two founders, a husband and wife team, Anton Benjamin Vickerman and Kelly-Anne Vickerman, were arrested after this raid and charged with "conspiracy to defraud." Note that they were not charged with copyright infringement. If "conspiracy to defraud" sounds familiar, it's the same vague law that was used against the owner of OiNK (unsuccessfully), against the owner of tv-links.co.uk (also unsuccessfully), and also against the creators of Mulve (don't know what happened to that case). Considering how this has failed in two key cases before, and it didn't look like SurfTheChannel was any different, it seemed unlikely to work here either. And, in fact, there were other serious problems with the case, including the issue that FACT itself (again: private organization) was given the Vickermans' computers.

Unfortunately, however, the court has found Anton guilty of "conspiracy to defraud" for which he faces 10 years in jail. 10 Years. His wife was found not guilty. Of course, FACT and other entertainment industry interests are cheering this on as a huge victory, and promising to use this to stifle all kinds of useful innovation... er, go after any other site they consider to be "pirate" sites, even if those sites have perfectly legitimate and non-infringing uses. The broadness of the law, and the vague and contradictory standards with which it has been applied in the UK should be exceptionally worrying to people -- especially those in the UK. It is no longer safe to try to create a useful service to help people find entertainment content, because you may get raided, private companies may get your computers and you may end up in jail. London has been building itself up as a tech/startup hub of Europe, but with rulings like these, don't be surprised to see entrepreneurs move elsewhere.

Filed Under: anton benjamin vickerman, conspiracy, kelly-anne vickerman, surfthechannel, uk
Companies: fact, oink, scopelight, tv-links

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  1. identicon
    Enigma, 15 Aug 2012 @ 4:35am

    Somewhat dodgy ground here

    In the interests of procrastinating from what I am supposed to be doing (linked here by the BBC), I took a look at the law surrounding conspiracy to defraud, which is nicely summarised by the font of all knowledge, wikipedia.

    On the page, it links to the Attorney General's advice on the law: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.uk/Publications/Documents/conspiracy%20to%20defraud%20final.pdf

    Qu oting from that document, point 15 (page 4/5): "The dishonest obtaining of land and other property not protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 adn the Trademarks Act 1994, and other confidential information. The Fraud Act will bite where there is intent to make a gain or cause a loss through false representation, failure to disclose information where there is a legal obligation to do so, or in the abuse of position;

    Dishonestly infringing another's right; for example the dishonest exploitation of another's patent in the absence of a legal duty to disclose information about its existence;..."

    This refers to conduct that can only be prosecuted as conspiracy to defraud, as the Fraud Act 2006 is designed to be a more specific and incisive law, and it is statutary law as opposed to the common law conspiracy to defraud.

    Therefore, if I am reading this right (and I am not a lawyer by any means), this case falls short of the Fraud Act because there can't be any evidence for dishonesty.

    This particular branch of common law appears to be built up to encompass fraudulent behaviour even when that behaviour itself is not an offence, which I admit seems counterintuitive, however I will restate that there are no specific rules and regulations as it is not statutory laws - there is no "law" per se. It is only the accumulation of judicial decisions over the years - and I don't have the time (or the ability) to comb through the case law of the last however many years to see where the lines are drawn.

    What I would say though, is that an appeal should be made, and the Court of Appeal will sort it out. That is their job, after all, to interpret the law effectively. Its one of the defining aspects of the British judicial system as far as I am aware.

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