We've seen some pretty brazen copyright trolling efforts lately, but this latest one may be the most extreme. FightCopyrightTrolls has the story of the "Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency," which has some features like a normal copyright troll, and some that go way, way beyond trolling to out and out fraud
. I will note, however, that as I was writing this article, it appears that whoever is behind this bit of fraud has apparently decided to run away. The ICLEA website now states:
Effective immediately, the Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency has ceased operations. Please disregard any notices you received from us, and please do not send us any payments.
Here's what the website looks like as I type this:
And here's what it looked like a few hours ago:
But, let's explore just a bit of what they were doing before FCT exposed them. First off, by both the name and the terminology they clearly were implying to people that they were a government agency
rather than a private company. The name itself -- incorporating both "law enforcement" and "agency" implied as much. They used a seal that one might incorrectly interpret to be a law enforcement shield. They also were using a virtual office space based in Washington DC, not far from many federal buildings. Originally, their website claimed that they were
... an international organization that helps to enforce copyright laws on the internet worldwide by informing potential copyright law violators regarding the serious possible criminal and/or civil liability they may face, and providing them with an opportunity to help them comply with copyright laws.
In the letters they sent out
, they went even further, claiming:
We work with law enforcement agencies and strategic partners around the world to enforce copyright laws, and to help prosecute individuals and companies who violate these laws.
Also, the letter repeatedly suggests that individuals may face criminal
charges for merely downloading a song. The letter (which we've reproduced below) does correctly call out the section of copyright law that highlights criminal penalties, but conveniently leaves out the part that defines what qualifies for criminal enforcement. Oh, and the fact that a private bogus company pretending to be a government agency can't bring criminal charges.
Like all trolls, they demand payment to "avoid further action from being taken against you." From a quick search online, it appears that a bunch
in the last week or so, with varying amounts being demanded (generally between $300 and $500, it appears), and with payment being required by March 1st. One hopes that no one actually paid up, though it's likely that some did.
Again, the full letter is below, and even with the company claiming that it has now "ceased operations," some questions remain. It's not at all clear who was behind this. The letters come from a "David Walsh," though it's anybody's guess as to the person's real name. The office, again, was a virtual office, so the person behind this could be anywhere. What's not clear is how they got the information about specific downloads which it could use to accuse people. There are a few different theories floating around, but until there's more proof one way or the other, it remains pure speculation.
Either way, it seems pretty clear that this has gone beyond your everyday copyright troll. While they often go pretty close to the line of "extortion," they can at least claim some marginal legitimacy by actually representing copyright holders. With the ICLEA, that doesn't appear to be true at all. They're misrepresenting who they are, and demanding cash to avoid possible incarceration (which they can't do). It seems like that likely violates all sorts of laws having to do with fraud and extortion. So, whoever is behind this, while they may have chosen to misrepresent criminal copyright law, they might want to spend some time familiarizing themselves with criminal law in other contexts.
Of course, while the DOJ and ICE keep claiming that they're so focused on "criminal" copyright issues these days, one wonders if they'll spend any time or effort to go after the folks behind this actual
scam. Or, do they only go after sites that Hollywood doesn't like?
Either way, we've posted the text of one of the letters below to show just how over the top the claims were.