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E-commerce Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

 Like all markets, the internet has attracted a range of characters including businesses, auction houses like eBay, rougues, pirates and thieves. This post reviews various court cases involving these characters, ending with the extradition to America of an Australian for breach of copyright law.

I have great respect for gypsies, even tramps and on the rare occasion thieves. I expect this sentiment is shared by many Australians with a convict heritage. It may also be shared by the daughter of a refugee father, Cher (nee Cheryl Sarkisian LaPiere) who had a number 1 hit in 1971 with "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ".

Rogue traders at eBay

From clients over the last six months we've heard about strange goings on at eBay, the worlds largest online auction company.

Despite its policies, procedures and user agreement, as a busy marketplace eBay attracts its share of rogues. A few clients with intellectual property have seen others offer on eBay products that are virtually identical. Our clients' original works of sculpture and graphic design have been copied and offered for sale without permission.

In some cases the vendors are not the occasional pests who reproduce without permission. They are instead focused infringers who see that they are onto a good thing. Those good things are not just the works being copied. They are also the anonymity provided by the eBay trading system.

It works for vendors who copy and for vendors who work to jack up prices. Last week PC World reported that in New York "A jewelry company on eBay Inc. that allegedly bid on its own auctions to illegally drive up prices by as much as 20% agreed to pay US$400,000 in restitution and penalties, the New York state attorney general's office said...". EBay brought the case to the attention of the attorney general's office and helped in the investigation.

eBay was also in action last week in Sydney. In the Local Court at Downing Centre, Magistrate Helen Syme ordered Dov Tenenboim, 22, from Bondi to pay A$19,116 in compensation to eBay. He may also serve eight months' home detention.

In The Daily Telegraph report (8 June 2007, page 28), Tenenboim is said to have "hacked into more than 90 eBay accounts to sell imaginary goods". eBay has reimbursed users who bought "Tenenboim's bogus Apple iPods over four months".

The Pirate Bay

pirate_bay_logo Some come right out and tell you they are pirates. They see a distinction between that and being thieves. Part of their reason for that is that their country's copyright laws are not the same as say those in the US of A.

Steal This Film is a new documentary on The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent site. BitTorrent is used for copying films and videos content. The film's official site is here, but rather than download it there you can watch it online here.

In 2006 The Pirate Bay's computer servers were raided by police in Sweden. The site was taken down for some days. Following this it went back up, then redundancy was built (servers were placed in different jurisdictions, ie other countries) to reduce the impact of future attempts to bring the site down, and a political movement grew in Sweden to push The Pirate Bay cause.

In this project there's more to come. The makers of Steal This Film have created a Wiki discussing their venture. Like The Pirate Bay they'll sell you a T-shirt as merchandising to fund their venture. Both also accept donations.

Tension and friction

This movement speaks to the core tension evident increasingly, not just in Sweden, but in Australia. It is a growing tension and friction between:

  • what new media digital technology can do, in particular their copying capabilities or functionality;
  • what users, consumers, fans, inspired creators, and hackers want to do with the technologies; and
  • the exponentially growing post-modern style of digital works, ie using sampling and mashups, virtually synonyms for a lot of what you see at MySpace, YouTube and elsewhere online;

   versus 

  • what domestic and international intellectual property law will permit them to do, here we are largely talking about copyright law.

Copyright law amendments in Australia (most recently in December 2006), and elsewhere to my knowledge, have not resolved the tension and friction. There's no easy fix or answer, even when it involves a Creative Commons licence.

The best practice is to act on legal advice from experienced lawyers before you copy all or part of a copyright work.

USA v. Griffiths

dept_of_justice

All this gets to be very serious business when a local pirate is extradited to another country to face its criminal justice system.

This year Hew Raymond Griffiths, 44, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. Griffiths used the online alias of "Bandido" and has been linked to software piracy activities over many years in the Internet software piracy group known as DrinkOrDie.

The US Justice Department has described DrinkOrDie as one of the world's oldest and most renowned internet piracy groups. It states in its 20 April press release: "To date, Operation Buccaneer has resulted in more than 30 felony convictions in the United States and 11 convictions of foreign nationals overseas. Prior to its dismantling, DrinkOrDie was estimated to have caused the illegal reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games and music." Profiles of the convicted individuals are listed in the Wikipedia page on DrinkOrDie.

Griffiths was a resident, until recently, of our jurisdiction - New South Wales, Australia.

In May 2007 he was extradited from Australia to face charges in the US. He will face Judge Hilton in USA v. Griffiths for sentencing on 22 June 2007.

In the Australian Law Journal, Justice Peter Young of the NSW Supreme Court has written: "International copyright violations are a great problem. However, there is also the consideration that a country must protect its nationals from being removed from their homeland to a foreign country merely because the commercial interests of that foreign country are claimed to have been affected by the person's behaviour in Australia and the foreign country can exercise influence over Australia."


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