18 year old Swiss-Italian girl sentenced for illegal file sharing

In Ticino an 18 y.o. girl was judged and sentenced for illegally sharing her favorite movies (270) and songs (4’200) over the Internet. She did not appeal. The judgment is now into force and is likely to be a major precedent for future cases (jurisprudence). A short TV news brief was aired on January 7, 2010 on Swiss television.

This raises several key concerns :

First, in the case of Switzerland, downloading is not illegal but sharing copyrighted content over the Internet is. This is different from other countries such as our French neighbors for example who will (try to ! ) track illegal downloads of copyrighted content through ISPs implementing a Three Strikes approach with the HADOPI law. Etc. As a result, we live in this paradox of a world where the Internet is the most extraordinary example of something global for the greater good but artificially constrained by totally ineffective and contradictory laws which are in essence territorial, thus useless on a global scale.

Equally worrying is the Bounty Hunter approach ! Some countries, like Switzerland, will prosecute based on private companies reporting cases regardless of privacy concerns. Such a situation is extremely worrying as it leads to questioning the legitimacy and means of action of a system relying on private sector / interest group triggered justice. Companies such as Swiss based Logistep AG have built their business on such situations. In most cases they will use intimidation towards an out of court settlement based on warning letters threatening to bring the case to court. People often comply fearing a trial.

Finally, the disproportion of sanctions compared to the actual situation of ordinary people who aren’t the real criminals after all. We’re looking at penalties in the order of 3 years imprisonment or 100’000 CHF in the case of Switzerland. For crying out loud, at that level one would be more comfortable running a real piracy powerhouse in Asia or any Internet safe heaven. I’ve always been amazed to see how the entertainment industry has been going after the small fish, trying to preserve obsolete business models repeatedly failing to see the true opportunities exhibited by disruptive technologies such as the Internet. Not to mention the feeling that the industrial pirates seem to enjoy business as usual situations in almost total impunity.

We need to work something out. It requires to re-think a few things creatively. There are alternatives out there and we just need to reach out to do something:

New Business Models and their corresponding services need to be launched. The Internet is here to stay. The whole entertainment industry needs a deep change taking into account the people (and what they want) and the technology as an opportunity. We now live in a service driven economy characterized by its global, participative and dematerialized nature.

Inform and train our youngsters very early on. Our children are now Digital Natives. They were born after the Web, they grew up with the mouse in one hand, the Internet as their TV and their cell phones as radios. It’s not by criminalizing them that we’ll get this right. They sample, share, participate, mix and remix with what we’ve given them ! We should not forget this. Our legacy for them is their playground ! What information society do we want them to live in ? Education and training are and will always be key elements of progress for mankind.

Public policies also have a key role to play in setting the guidelines prior to enacting new laws that are often useless or simply obsolete by the time they come into force. In the current situation it is clear that whatever laws countries enact, they are bound to be useless given the global nature of the Internet.

Do we need a Universal Declaration of Digital Rights AND Obligations ? Maybe, but this would require tremendous efforts to work on sometimes conflicting interests and values to be shared for the future of our digital society. Moreover it would have to be ratified by a significant number of countries in order to create the required level of pressure on reluctant countries. Would the UN be a suitable place for such a proposal or are we at a time requiring to consider creative alternatives ?

One we’ve been hearing about for some time now is the creation of a new State without physical land. A Digital State of which anyone would be automatically a citizen of, thus providing Digital Identities, passports, etc. A sort of confederation (idea we love in Switzerland) where member states would join their efforts on all digital matters that are global in essence. It could also have its own institutions, courts and procedures.

Food for thought, please feel free to react, comment, oppose, disagree, contribute or start something !

2 thoughts on “18 year old Swiss-Italian girl sentenced for illegal file sharing

  1. The system is certainly obsolete, I liked this quote found in a review of a book on the story of media (similar to the music industry to some extent): “U.S media were underperforming before the Internet”, and the same can be said of the music industry, selling plastic, copying the competitors success story, etc etc.

    I am convinced there will be a framework in the next ten years. Changes take time, but it’s unstoppable. Just a shame for the few “examples” who will get caught and sentenced…

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