Being a leecher -- usually a badge of shame -- may be one man's savior

An unnamed German eDonkey2000 user found himself in the crosshairs of one of Germany’s anti-P2P watchdogs, and was presented with copyright notice that demanded he pay 700 euros for making music available for download. But there’s a catch: his ED2K client was tweaked to block all attempts at uploading back to the network, using a so-called “leecher” or “zero-upload” mod.

According to TorrentFreak via German publication Heise Online (English), the unnamed user’s client reported an uninterrupted uptime of 924 days – over two and a half years – while maintaining a total upload count of 0 bytes. Despite this, German anti-P2P firm Media Protector is demanding €700, based off of evidence gathered in October 2007 that claims the man uploaded movies and pornography.

Media Protector asserts that its claims are accurate, and that the evidence it holds was approved by “sworn computer experts.”

The unknown German’s plight adds yet another entry to the long list of stories containing users who feel they are unfairly targeted by the content industry’s enforcement machine. In the United States, cases of supposedly mistaken identity can go both ways: disabled mother Tanya Anderson won almost $110,000 in attorney’s fees from the RIAA last May after it falsely accused her of downloading gangster rap under a username she'd never heard of. Minnesota-based single mom Jammie Thomas, however, was ordered to pay the content industry $222,000 after fighting claims that she let 24 songs, out of a total of 1,700, be “available” for download to other users over the KaZaA P2P network – but lucky for her, the judge of that case is considering a retrial due to a flawed jury instruction.

While anti-P2P companies such as Media Protector or U.S.-based MediaDefender are generally tightlipped about their tactics – a sticking point that has many calling for increased transparency – the internet gained deeper insight into the minds behind MediaDefender after hackers leaked a crippling amount of internal data to the internet lasty year, including complete e-mail archives and the source code to nearly all of the company’s antipiracy technologies. While MediaDefender’s role is not exactly analogous to that of Media Protector – the U.S. equivalent would likely be SafeNet/MediaSentry – one could easily argue that the zeal reflected in MediaDefender’s e-mail leaks is applicable of the entire anti-P2P industry, given current evidence.

Unfortunately, the Heise Online article is sketchy with details, so it’s hard to know who’s really right. A lot hangs in the balance of cases like this, however: France will soon kick file-sharers off the internet if they’re caught pirating three times, and the content industry throughout the world seems to be sparing no expense in its quest to expedite the process against those deemed as pirates. I predict a future where a handful of truly innocent, internet-less users start fighting back, dragging the content industry and its loose trigger fingers even deeper through the legal mud – and bringing a swift judicial end to its antics.

In a world where one’s internet can be disconnected due to legal accusations that defendants have little chance to contest – the RIAA thinks it shouldn’t even have to prove infringement, due to the difficulty of collecting evidence in a system relying on mass lawsuits – users are quickly finding themselves on the business end of a legal cannon that carries little regard for who’s right. Regardless of whether or not the target-of-the-day is an unwitting innocent, or guilty as sin; are you sure that’s where we want to be?

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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