Fifteen years ago, the RIAA was contacting alleged file-sharers in the United States, demanding cash payments to make supposed lawsuits go away. In the years that followed, dozens of companies followed in their footsteps – not as a deterrent – but as a way to turn piracy into profit.
The practice is now widespread, not just in the United States, but also in Europe where few major countries have avoided the clutches of trolls. Germany has been hit particularly hard, with millions of cases. The UK has also seen tens of thousands of individuals targeted since 2006 although more recently the trolls there have been in retreat. The same cannot be said about Finland, however.
From a relatively late start in 2013, trolls have been stepping up their game in leaps and bounds but the true scale of developments in this Scandinavian country will probably come as a surprise to even the most seasoned of troll-watchers.
According to data compiled by NGO activist Ritva Puolakka, the business in Finland has grown to epidemic proportions. In fact, between 2013 and 2017 the Market Court (which deals with Intellectual Property matters, among other things) has ordered local Internet service providers to hand over the details of almost 200,000 Finnish Internet subscribers.
Notably, every single case has been directed at a core group of three providers – Elisa, TeliaSonera and DNA – while customers of other ISPs seem to have been completely overlooked. Exactly why isn’t clear but in other jurisdictions it’s proven more cost-effective to hone a process with a small number of ISPs, rather than spread out to those with fewer customers.
Only one legal process is listed for 2013 but that demanded the identities of people behind 50 IP addresses. In 2014 there was a 14-fold increase in processes and the number of IP addresses targeted grew to 1,387.
For 2015, a total of 117 processes are listed, demanding the identities of people behind 37,468 IP addresses. In 2016 the trolls really upped their game. A total of 131 processes demanded the details of individuals behind 98,966 IP addresses. For last year, 79 processes are on the books, which in total amounted to 60,681 potential defendants in settlement cases.
In total, between 2013 and 2017 the Market Court ordered the ISPs to hand over the personal details of people behind a staggering 198,552 IP addresses. While it should be noted that each might not lead to a unique individual, the number is huge when one considers the potential returns if everyone pays up hundreds of euros to make supposed court cases go away.
But despite the significant scale, it will probably come as no surprise that very few companies are involved. Troll operations tend to be fairly centralized, often using the same base services to track and collect evidence against alleged pirates.
In the order they entered the settlement business in Finland the companies involved are: LFP Video Group LLC, International Content Holding B.V., Dallas Buyers Club LLC, Crystalis Entertainment UG, Scanbox Entertainment A/S, Fairway Film Alliance LLC, Copyright Collections Ltd, Mircom International Content Management, Interallip LLP, and Oy Atlantic Film Finland Ab.