After a two-year investigation the torrent directory site Oink has been taken down in a series of raids and arrests in both The Netherlands and England. OiNK was an invitation-only private tracker that mostly dealt with members trading new release or pre-release albums, and primarily in FLAC (lossless) format. The administrator of the site was a 24-year old from the UK employed in the IT field, and it seems that finding and arresting the man was achieved by simply looking up the whois records from the site’s domain, and from information found on the confiscated servers.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) along with INTERPOL were responsible for the investigation and subsequent raids and arrests. A spokesperson for the authorities claimed that “OiNK was central to the illegal distribution of pre-release music online”, and that OiNK was very profitable for the administrators: “This extremely lucrative and creative scheme consisted of a private file-sharing website being set up.” The only source of revenue for OiNK were donations from members, and this may now compound problems for administrators of the site as charges in addition to the copyright infringement charges have been filed as the site is being portrayed as a for-profit criminal enterprise.
While links to pre-release albums and other releases certainly appeared on OiNK early, the authorities have claimed that the site and its members were actually responsible for these releases, showing that they still don’t understand how the scene works. While OiNK may have been popular (180,000 members), it certainly was not a central hub of online music releases. No such central hub exists, which is why the release groups are all still alive and no matter how many sites are taken down, online file trading will continue. The members of OiNK mainly consisted of music fans yearning for high-quality releases of albums, and each one of them would certainly have access to other sources for the same releases.
There is much disinformation amongst much of the media about this case, with claims that the administrators posted the music to the site directly, that they were selling music illegally, and much more. This representation of what OiNK was/is couldn’t be further from the truth and will only further alienate online file traders from the anti-piracy movement.
In related news, a few days ago the online video site Tv-Links.co.uk (archive) was also taken down and the administrator was arrested. Tv-links began as a site that linked to TV show episodes that were hosted on other hosted video sites (commonly Google Video, Dailymotion, YouTube, Stage6 and others). The site quickly became popular and later added an index of movies and other content. The files were hosted on flash-based video sites, so the quality was far inferior to DVDs and even TV broadcasts.
As with the OiNK case, the administrator was arrested in the UK, and the site itself was hosted on a UK domain name (OiNK was previously hosted on a UK domain name, but they switched over to their .cd address some months ago after having the .me.uk domain suspended). As with the OiNK case, the authorities responsible for the Tv-links takedown and arrest are also claiming that the administrator had a for-profit motive and was profiting heavily from the copyrighted works of others. One of the lead investigators in the Tv-links case had this to say:
“Sites such as TV Links contribute to and profit from copyright infringement by identifying, posting, organising, and indexing links to infringing content found on the internet that users can then view on demand by visiting these illegal sites”
While Tv-links was organizing and indexing links, it certainly was not posting content. With both OiNK and Tv-links, the directories of links were maintained and moderated by community members. Sites such as Pirate Bay have successfully argued in jurisdictions such as Sweden that by hosting torrent seed files that they themselves are not responsible for copyright infringement. In the case of TV-links, this is even more true, as the function it performs is that of a meta directory or search engine.
A recent review of IP law in the UK has clarified that the “facilitation” of copyright infringement is a crime, meaning a link to a copyrighted video on Google or Stage6 can be infringing, while the actual host of the video may not be responsible. Since the early days of FTP sites, bulletin boards and IRC, file traders have had to adjust their methods and develop technologies that decentralize responsibility – and the law in many jurisdictions has been quickly catching up. While linking may now be a crime in the UK, the law is obviously applied selectively so that various trade groups are able to target and take-down sites that they do not find kosher.
Another commonality in recent take-downs is that the authorities attempt to portray the administrators of these sites as having profited heavily from their actions. All of the admins that were recently arrested held full-time employment, and most struggled to keep their communities alive because of hosting costs and had to solicit donations. One lesson for other communities would be that even taking donations for the upkeep and maintenance of sites will be construed by authorities as selling copyrighted content for profit, which leads to additional and more serious charges.
In other related news, the world’s biggest private torrent tracker, Demonoid is back up and running after a period of downtime. We reported previously that the downtime may have been related to a takedown by authorities, and while the administrators of the site did receive a take-down notice from CRIA in Canada, they were back up and running within days with a new host.
Along with The Pirate Bay, Demonoid has managed to skirt efforts to kill its community while two other popular sites where the administrators were both based in the UK have been shutdown. In the online copyright fight, there is no uniform global law, and some countries are much safer for file traders than others. With the takedown of both OiNK and Tv-links, the authorities in the UK have expressed their intention to aggressively pursue those sites that are deemed illegal or unfavorable.
Because there are other countries where laws are not being bent and constantly shaped to appease some who want to broaden the scope of copyright infringement, the effects of these sites being taken down will be very minor. Expect to see mirrors of both OiNK and Tv-links appear very quickly hosted on non-UK domains, in non-UK or Dutch data centers, and run by non-British citizens.