Over the last couple of days, I started receiving disturbing reports about a new copyright extortion outfit, “Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency.” The con artists behind this “company” have been mass-sending demand letters threatening that those who won’t pay $495 by a certain date, “will be fingerprinted, photographed, and held in jail until you are arraigned in court.”
According to confidential reports, the IP addresses and file titles (this scam deals with music, not films) are not made-up (to the extent of the reliability of collection methods, of course). Therefore, either the crooks indeed work with an IP monitoring company or use home-brewed methods (can be as simple as running an out-of-box Bittorent client and analyzing logs). Collusion between former owners of the file sharing sites and this scam outfit is also a possibility. At this moment, it is an open question how this outfit managed to translate IP addresses into the subscribers’ personal information. This is very disturbing.
What is unusual and what places this scam far beyond even Prenda Law on the brazenness scale, is the nature of the threats. Unlike the majority of US copyright trolls, who abuse copyright law but manage to balance on the edge of legality, ICLEA undeniably crosses the line by threatening its targets with criminal prosecution.
The most despicable existing troll operations (Prenda, Lipscomb, CEG-TEK, etc.) never endangered their lucrative shakedown scheme by wandering into a clearly criminal domain. There is a very scarce and scattered evidence of some callers making threats of criminal prosecution (those are mostly collection agents to whom Lipscomb outsourced harassment), but I believe those threats are not indicative and most likely were not approved by troll masterminds.
Back to ICLEA. The majority of those who dealt with copyright trolls, including lawyers, immediately recognized the fraud. The address listed on the website is a rented “virtual office,” calls go to voicemail, etc. I believe that these crooks will be busted very soon, but since I am concerned about uneducated, easily scared victims, I have decided to write about it in order to utilize the high visibility of this site to search engines, so potential victims would find this warning:
Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency is a scam; this “company” is engaged in criminal extortion — these letters are sent through the mail so they constitute mail fraud and wire fraud. This crosses the line of criminality because this outfit impersonates law enforcement and falsely threatens its victims with criminal prosecution.
Don’t even think about cutting a check to the criminals: they will be history very soon.
Below is the text of the letter, found on The Internet Patrol Site. I will replace it with a scan of an actual letter when/if I get one.
Re: Illegal Internet activity resulting in potential criminal and/or civil charges Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency v. John Doe
Case ID 12345 Confirmation 67890
If this matter is not settled by Friday, March 1, 2013, you may lace potential felony criminal and/or civil charges filed against you. If you are arrested for felony criminal copyright infringement you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and held in jail until you are arraigned in court.
Dear Mr. Doe,
My name is David Walsh and I am a Senior Copyright Law Enforcement Officer with the Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency, an international organization that has been charged with enforcing copyright laws on the Internet worldwide. We work with law enforcement agencies and strategic partners around the world to enforce copyright laws, and to help prosecute individuals and companies who violate these laws.
We have identified illegal Internet activity involving copyright crime occurring by either you, or someone in your household such as a spouse, child, or roommate. Under the United States No Electronic Theft (NET) Act, penalties for willfully infringing copyright law can include a felony criminal conviction that can result in imprisonment, and/or fines of up to several million dollars:
17 U.S.C.§506(a). Penalties for criminal infringement, set forth in Title 18 of the U.S. Code, are a felony conviction entailing up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $250,000. In addition to a criminal conviction and fine, copyright holders can also file a civil court case against the copyright infringer. 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2). In a civil case where the court finds that infringement was committed willfully, the court can award statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.
The copyrighted materials outlined below in the Evidence section of this notice are a small sample of the materials that have been illegally downloaded and shared through your Internet account. As the Internet Service Provider (ISP) account holder, you are legally liable for what occurs over your Internet connection. Evidence collected against you includes the correlation of your IP (Internet Provider) address listed in this notice at the time that the copyright crime we identified was committed.
Evidence: Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency v. John Doe
File Name: Equinox (Skrillex).mp3
Copyright Holder: Psychopathic Records
File Size: 2.1 MB
Date Downloaded: Monday, April 23, 2012 – 5:58 PM Software/Network: FrostWire (BitTorrent)
IP Address: 126.96.36.199
File Name: Cee Lo Green – Fuck You.mp3
Copyright Holder: Elektra Records
File Size: 3.5 MB
Date Downloaded: Saturday, November 19, 2011 – 11:59 PM Software/Network: FrostWire (Gnutella)
IP Address: 188.8.131.52
As you can see by the Evidence we have against you, the copyright crime you committed was done through P2P (Peer-To-Peer) file- sharing software. P2P file-sharing software allows Internet users to share music, movies, software, and other types of files. Some examples of P2P software include LimeWire, FrostWire, Cabos, uTorrent, BitTorrent, Vuze, and Ares. Even if you purchased the file – sharing software or subscription to a website, the rights you purchased were for the file-sharing software or subscription itself and not the rights to download, upload, or otherwise share copyrighted materials.
Claiming that you were not aware that you were committing a copyright crime by sharing the files listed in this notice does not absolve you of criminal and/or civil liability, and you are still liable for copyright infringement. In fact, if you read the fine print and/or user agreement associated with the file-sharing program you used or subscription you purchased, you will likely find a clause that places the liability on you as the end user and references the fact that downloading, uploading, or otherwise sharing copyrighted materials is illegal.
If you cannot locate the files listed in this notice, someone with access to your computer may have deleted the files. Either way, you can still be held criminally and/or civilly liable, as a crime has already been committed. Electronic evidence collected against you can still be used to prosecute you, even if the files have been deleted from your computer.
At this point, no criminal and/or civil charges have been filed against you, however if this matter is not settled by Friday, March 1, 2013 then you may face serious potential criminal and/or civil charges filed against you. If you are arrested for felony criminal copyright infringement you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and held in jail until you are arraigned in court.
We are providing you with an opportunity to settle this matter and will accept the sum of $495 to avoid any potential further action from being taken against you. If you act promptly you will help avoid being named as a Defendant in a potential criminal and/or civil lawsuit that can result in a felony criminal conviction causing imprisonment, and/or fines of up to several million dollars. You can pay the settlement amount of $495 and avoid further action from being taken against you by following these steps:
(1) Read and sign the Settlement Agreement included with this notice.
(2) Prepare a check or money order in the amount of $495 made payable to “Net Tech Division/Internet Copyright Agency”. Be sure to reference Case 12345 on your method of payment.
(3) Mail the signed Settlement Agreement along with your settlement payment to:
Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency Net Technology Division
1455 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20004
We will contact you once we receive your Settlement Agreement and payment to confirm that no criminal and/or civil action will be taken against you, along with providing you with steps you can take to help avoid any future legal entanglements.
Enclosed please find a sheet containing answers to questions you may have and a Settlement Agreement. We look forward to your settling this matter before criminal and/or civil action is taken against you.
Senior Copyright Law Enforcement Officer
Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency
Now the good news: frauds like this inevitably draw attention of the law enforcement. Public also becomes more aware of these scams’ existence. Thus, the “classic” copyright trolls increasingly find themselves in an uncomfortably open area under the bright spotlights. LiveWire Holdings, for instance, is not registered anywhere in the US, and it uses a virtual address in Washington, DC; this fact alone can trigger law enforcement’s sensors previously not tuned to respond to such signals.
We help to accelerate trolls’ downfall, but what will ultimately bury copyright extortionists is their own greed. Over the course of the human history, greed has been killing criminal organizations much more sophisticated than copyright trolling operations.
Thanks to Mike Masnick and others for alerting me about the apparent shutdown of the fraudulent operation. Currently the website of the “Internet Copyright Law Enforcement Agency” looks like this:
It was quick. To the best of my knowledge, many people, including lawyers, reported or called/emailed “David Walsh” threatening to report this fraud to the FBI and other authorities. While I’m glad it turned out this way, many disturbing questions remain. It is still not clear how the scam artists managed to link IP addresses to identities. There are suspicions linking this operation to the “Limewire Settlement” scam, so it is possible that both IP addresses and identifying information were fished at that time.
Impersonating a government agency
While searching Google cache, I found out that yesterday’s version of the website was pretty mild in comparison to what the crooks had earlier. There is a pretty damning evidence that the impersonation of a government agency was an essential part of the fraud (see the cached version of “Home” and a picture of a police arrest on the next page). Also note an attempt to solicit snitching: the “Report copyright crime” page was not included into the yesterday’s version.
- Home: 2/8 Google cache | 2/21 screenshot
- Potential lawsuit notices: 2/8 Google cache | 2/21 screenshot
- Questions about notices: 2/4 Google cache | 2/21 screenshot
- Enforcement news: 2/15 Google cache | 2/21 screenshot
- Report copyright crime: 2/3 Google cache
- Contact: 2/21 screenshot
- Site Policy: 2/4 Google cache
- TechDirt: Pure Scamming Copyright Troll Implies It’s A Gov’t Agency And That You Will Face Jail Time If You Don’t Pay Up by Mike Masnick.
- TorrentFreak: Scammers Extort BitTorrent Users Posing as Law Enforcement by Ernesto.
- ArsTechnica New troll scam: Pay us $495 or face felony charges and jail time by Timothy Lee.