British ONiK users arrested for illegal downloading

July 2008


By Cassandra Williams, postgraduate student, The College of Law

In 2007 British and Dutch police shut down ‘ONiK’, the member’s only BitTorrent tracker site. OiNK was championed by many filesharers as the internet’s most complete music source (of illegal music). ONiK focused on high quality files and featured trackers for pre-release material, which of course drew it special attention from record industry’s anti-piracy investigators. As a result a, flat on Teesside and several properties in Amsterdam were raided as part of the Interpol investigation – and there was a widely-publicised raid at the Middlesbrough home of OiNKs adminstrator, 24-year old IT worker Alan Ellis. Ellis remains on police bail for the charge of conspiracy to defraud and infringement of copyright law. His bail has been repeatedly extended, with the next deadline set for 1st July. According to the IFPI (the international organisation representing the major record labels), t he UK-run site leaked 60 major pre-release albums in that year alone. The site’s servers, which were based in Amsterdam, were also seized in a series of raids in October 2007.
Now OiNK users who have allegedly uploaded material are being targeted by the police in Cleveland who have confirmed that six people were arrested in connection with the uploading of pre-release music to OiNK. The uploaders were arrested in Britain for alleged illegal filesharing on Friday 23rd May – and three more arrests were made on Wednesday 28th May. The arrested individuals are five men aged between 19 and 33, and a 28-year-old woman. Reports indicate that the suspects were taken to their local police station for questioning and required to provide DNA samples and fingerprints. They were detained “in relation to uploading pre-release music” the Police said in a statement. According to Jack Schofield, (Guardian Blogs) the suspects were arrested on suspicion of “Conspiracy to Defraud the Music Industry”. That said, this hasn’t yet been confirmed by the police. All of the arrested have been bailed without charge, pending further inquiries. A spokeswoman for Cleveland police was unable to provide details of which specific criminal law or laws the six are under suspicion of breaking.
On Friday 30 th May the Torrentfreak blog announced that there had been further arrests in the investigation. It cites sources saying that the majority of those arrested did not know Alan Ellis and that they have been asked to hand over details of their accounts, including passwords. Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act can be used by police to force suspects to disclose encryption keys and passwords. Failure to comply with a section 49 order carries a prison sentence of up to five years. At the time of the shutdown a warning was posted by the investigators that took over the OiNK domain. It said: “A criminal investigation continues into the identities and activities of the site’s users.” The BPI, which represents record labels in the UK, said this “The BPI and IFPI worked with the police in order to close down the OiNK tracker site last October. The illegal online distribution of music, particularly pre-release is hugely damaging, and as OiNK was the biggest source for pre-releases at the time we moved to shut it down. We provided the information to assist this investigation, but this is now a police matter and we are unable to comment further at this stage.”

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