THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE has dropped a legal case against a seventeen year old boy accused of illegally distributing copyrighted material.
The boy in question, Matthew Wyatt, was seventeen when he was accused of sharing three albums and one single and arrested at home in front of his parents despite a lack of evidence.
In an unprecedented and appalling Keystone Kops caper, the Cleveland Police apparently took the advice of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), both of whose representatives were present during the search of Wyatt's property and his subsequent arrest and apparently decided to act without paying much heed to those quaint proprieties we in Britain still call the law.
According to Wyatt's lawyer the process was handled badly from beginning to end.
David Cook of Burrows Bussin Solicitors, said, "At no time during the course of this prosecution did the CPS actually produce any evidence that the material in question was in fact copyrighted. In a world where kudos can be gained through early leaks, and fake tracks consisting of live versions, white noise and loops are rife, we believed that this was a dangerous gap in the evidence. We also found it extraordinary that the copyright holder was never asked to identify the tracks as being theirs."
And to think that some people say the threat of a big brother police state is over-stated.
Anyone who finds the 'three strikes and you're out' proposals for policing the Internet objectionable will be really shocked to hear what happened to Wyatt.
Wyatt's parents came home on the tenth of September in 2007 to find the police, some record company representatives, trading standards and a locksmith attempting to force entry to their home and let them in. Matthew returned home a bit later to find his shocked parents and half a dozen home invaders turning his bedroom upside down. Never nice, and a lot worse when you are a seventeen year old boy.
By the end of the visit, some 160 items had been confiscated from the teenager's room and Wyatt Jr had been arrested and bunged into a cell for four hours.
According to Cook it was not to be the police that interviewed him over the incident, but the man in a suit from the IFPI, something that would only make sense in a totalitarian society ruled over by media firms.
As a result, the solicitor was able to argue to the police that said chap, who worked for a business funded by the music industry, was 'effectively the complainant' and shouldn't really be allowed to do such a thing. The IFPI and BPI suits then spent some time explaining their complaint to the plod.
This left the police wondering what to do, and the case languished on court dockets for over two years.
What is apparent is that no party wanted to go on record either for prosecuting the boy or it appears for having anything to do with his arrest at all. Cook said that the CPS dropped the case a week before it was due in court, adding, "We suspect that this was so that they did not have to explain to the court, and the press in attendance, the background of the investigation."
He contined to damn those involved, adding, "It was noted that the CPS would not explain how they came to 'find' Matthew. The story jumped from having an IP address to knocking at the door of his house. It was therefore apparent that either the CPS or the IFPI had breached both EC Data Protection laws and the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by tracing Matthew via this route. We did request clarification, but the CPS dropped the case before being obliged to provide this."
It appears that neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the music industry bodies wanted to go out of their way to find any harder targets to take down than a teenaged boy, and Cook suggested that perhaps they might have had ulterior motives for refusing to find the source of the original leaks, not least of all the justification for their own existence.
"The likely source of the material would be a band insider, record company employee or a music critic," he said. "But rather than alienate themselves from these useful allies, the IFPI, which represents the interests of the four major record companies, chose instead to make a scapegoat of a 17-year-old boy."
He added, "EMI had threatened to withdraw from the IFPI and the funding that goes with it. They had argued that the IFPI was impotent and not looking after their needs properly. Matthew was then charged with these offences, thus justifying the existence of the IFPI and perhaps proving to its members that it was doing something".
The long arm of the music industry, which is already felt to have too much of an influence in the policing in copyright infringement, was particularly overbearing in this instance, and Cook added that from the start it was heavy handed and interfering.
"It was clear throughout this case that Matthew Wyatt was the victim of a cynical attempt by the record industry to legitimise its heavy-handed tactics and dubious methods by using police resources and the public purse. Cleveland Police and the Crown Prosecution Service allowed themselves to be manipulated throughout this investigation and were content to rubber stamp reports commissioned by private bodies rather than scrutinise the merits of the case."
If anyone had scrutinised the case in the way that Wyatt's representatives had requested, then they might have discovered that the IFPI had funded the involvement of computer experts who were paid to assess the contents of Wyatt's computers. Even this did not go its way, however, and Cook added, "When the first expert apparently gave a response that the IFPI did not want, they then identified and paid a different expert. The CPS refused to explain what the first expert said."
Cook explained that a second expert drafted in to improve the situation was asked to redraft his own report on no less that eighteen occasions.
"This prosecution was not only incompetently handled, it has never been in the public interest and the CPS has been forced to admit that today." µ