Copyright infringement "gang" raided by UK cops: 3 harmless middle-aged karaoke fans

The City of London Police's Intellectual Property Crime Unit's breathless press-release about their raid on a "gang suspected of uploading and distributing tens of thousands of karaoke tracks online" obscures the truth: they busted three middle-aged dudes who loved singing, so they hunted down otherwise unavailable tracks and shared them with other karaoke fans, not making a penny in the process.

The City of London Police is an international vigilante force that's made a name for itself by seizing domain-names and taking other unilateral action without proper jurisdiction, warrants or court orders. They are effectively an arm of the UK entertainment industry. That's only fitting, because the City of London (as opposed to Metropolitan London) is a political unit that serves the interests of the finance industry, a "city" where the government is literally elected by the banks within its boundaries, who get more votes depending on how many people work for them.

The KaraokeRG "gang" was sharing tracks that couldn't be bought for any price — and were therefore not depriving anyone of any revenue. Nevertheless, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit characterised their site as "commercial scale" infringement, a legal designation that appears in the ACTA and TPP trade agreements, and opens us the possibility of criminal prosecutions and jail time for pursuing a literally harmless hobby.

The KaraokeRG website emphasises this is not about money: "These tracks are NOT FOR SALE by KaraokeRG… The tracks are made available for private use only and not intended for commercial use." Despite that fact, the PIPCU press release quotes John Hodge, the British Phonographic Industry's (BPI) Internet investigations chief, as saying, "Instances of commercial-scale copyright infringement are not exempt from investigation and anyone found to be facilitating such illegal activity is not immune from prosecution."

The details of the current case make it clear that this is in no way a "commercial-scale" operation—it was run by three people not for personal gain, but to serve the needs of fellow karaoke enthusiasts that were not being met by music publishers. So why is Hodge calling what seems to be an extremely low-level operation "commercial-scale?" It's probably because "commercial scale" is a key legal concept that the recording industry has been trying to redefine to include activities that don't involve financial gain.

UK police busts karaoke "gang" for sharing songs that aren't commercially available
[Glyn Moody/Ars Technica]