IFPI, the international music industry lobbying group, has put a new spin on authorised credit card transactions.
In a new tactic against file-sharing and other sites, IFPI will ask the police to authorise the closure of credit card payment facilities. The intention is to stem the flow of funds to the websites, which will ultimately be forced to close. Mastercard and Visa are the two credit card companies currently working with IFPI. The police force involved is the Economic Crime directorate of the City of London police.
The way it works is that IFPI's investigators will inform the City of London police about websites which they accuse of infringing copyright. The police will have to ‘verify' the evidence - and it is unclear exactly what ‘verify' means in this instance.
The City of London police willthen contact the credit card companies and pass on the verified ‘evidence'. Mastercard and Visa will not be able to act directly, but what they have agreed to do is to ask the bank which supplies credit card payment services to the website to produce counter-evidence that the site has the relevant music licences. Presumably, the bank has to then ask its customer for that counter-evidence. If it is not produced, the police will asked the bank to cut off services to that customer.
IFPI's statement says that ‘MasterCard has committed to deal with requests ...expeditiously" This is code for ‘it will do it immediately without asking questions'.
Interestingly, it the bank who provides the Visa or Mastercard services to the website which is being asked to produce the evidence that site has music licences. This places a new liability onto financial services companies, and would seem to suggest a new status for them as intermediaries in the copyright business.
IPFI says that it has already handed over the details of 24 websites alleged to be selling infringing content.
It is not clear who IFPI is targetting. IFPI's press statement mentions websites in Russia and the Ukraine which are undercutting music prices by allegedly not paying licence fees. However, UK police would surely not have the authority to demand action by a Russian or Ukrainian bank.
So either this is a way to get international finance companies, such as Visa and Mastercard, to break through all legal barriers and stem foreign companies - which will have no right of reply or redress? Or, it would appear that IFPI is really targetting UK-based websites.
It also seems that IFPI has taken the initiative of drawing up ‘best practice procedures' for credit card companies. These procedures are intended to give the banks guidelines in respect of websites applying for credit - IFPI wants the banks to refuse credit upfront if they think a website is offering allegedly infringing content.
The move would appear to be highly dangerous. How can a bank official, who almost certainly knows nothing about the music or content businesses, make such a decision? It is about stopping the tap by cutting off the flow - but it will almost certainly cut off the flow of innovation as well, as that is what is so dangerous about this move.
It certainly reflects a new front in international music industry vigilante-ism, with the cloak of legitimacy afforded by a friendly UK police force. In light of simlar action taken by the US government against the Wikileaks website, we should be watchful that credit card companies do not become the vehicle for the extra-judicial foreclosure of the open Internet.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) IFPI gets police authorisation for Visa card shut-downs http://www.iptegrity.com 8 March 2011