Nov. 26, 2012 at 8:37 PM ET
Police in Helsinki seized the laptop of a young girl during a search of her family's home last week, according to her father. The alleged offense? Using the popular BitTorrent website The Pirate Bay to download a single album.
Last year, 9-year-old Julietta came across a torrent on The Pirate Bay after searching on Google for Finnish pop star Chisu's latest album. The download failed to work, and she and her father went and bought the album together shortly afterwards. Unbeknownst to them, Finland's Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (known as CIAPC, as well as its Finnish acronym, TTVK) had already taken notice.
The events are related by the girl's father, Aki Wequ Nylund, in a public Facebook post. (Though Google Translate's Finnish is not very good, an account of the translated story was posted at copyright and BitTorrent news blog TorrentFreak.)
This spring, a letter arrived from the TTVK alleging that the Nylund's account had been linked to a copyright infringement. The letter gave the option to pay a settlement of €600 and sign a non-disclosure agreement — a common tactic used by copyright holders that removes the need for formal charges.
Nylund contacted the TTVK lawyer to contest the matter, but the TTVK continued its pursuit of damages. Last Tuesday morning, he found a pair of Finnish police officers standing at his doorstep.
The police presented a search warrant, entered, and identified the now 10-year-old girl's Winnie the Pooh-decorated laptop as the object of their search, and confiscated it.
Unsurprisingly, the events have drawn criticism locally and abroad. Finnish Internet rights watchdog Electronic Frontier Finland denounced the actions of the TTVK in a statement and blog post, calling attention to the arbitrary nature of the settlements and their use as a scare tactic. They also point out that Nylund's acknowledgment in this case notwithstanding, an IP address used to track an infringement cannot be linked to a person's identity.
The TTVK's executive director defended the actions in comments to Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, saying that TTVK and the police were only working to enforce the law.
Chisu, the pop star whose album was at the center of the controversy, expressed in a Facebook post that she supported copyright law but apologized for the situation.
Niko Nordström, CEO of Warner Music Finland, acknowledged (also via Chisu's Facebook page) the limits of IP-based enforcement, but said "this procedure is currently the only way to tackle illegal downloading" (translation by Google).
Had the TTVK known that the infringing party in this situation was a young girl, might they have taken a softer approach? In past cases, U.S. media associations have not made accommodations for minors, either.
As for Julietta's lost laptop, an anonymous benefactor sent a brand-new MacBook Pro to replace it. Her father reports that she is already putting it to use, playing online with her friends. An administrator at The Pirate Bay promised VIP privileges to her as well if she wants them — although after this experience, it would be understandable if she opted not to take advantage of the offer.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.