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
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.