We wish to assure you that this is not an attempt at fear-mongering. This is a real, sincere concern. People’s lives may be destroyed financially. Movie and record companies are now targeting South Africa and attempting to sue private individuals for damages. Recently, we were made aware that the police arrived at a local PE school and questioned two students in connection with downloading illegal movies. Overseas corporate media companies had contacted the local police to investigate the school as they had traced illegal movie/game download activity to the school’s internet connection. At this time, we are unsure of the legal outcome.
However, two days ago, we were brought face-to-face with the reality of one case and realized just how serious the media companies are when we were asked to validate and discuss an e-mail that was sent from a US movie distributor to a local ISP who then contacted a student in PE’s father. The e-mail threatened possible legal action and attempts to sue for damages over the download of a movie that was a breach of their copyright. This was not a hoax.
A month or two ago, another person we know had his computer confiscated, had to pay a huge fine, and just narrowly avoided a prison sentence. A few weeks ago, we are made aware of another person that appears to have been let off with a warning, but he is still not sure if the media company will try to still sue for damages. It is obvious that the movie, software and record companies are here and they mean business. We are not sure about other cities, but Port Elizabeth definitely appears to be in the spotlight with the sudden apparent surge of legal incidents.
It’s not only the media companies becoming more active in policing and enforcing either. Three weeks ago, Microsoft checked on our offices to ensure that we were “clean dealers”. We were obviously not concerned as we had signed a document on becoming “clean dealer” giving them permission to do so. We passed. Others may not be so lucky. If you are running illegal software, you may not be aware that staff can pick up a nice reward for reporting their employers for illegal software use.
These incidents have all occurred in just the last few weeks. It appears as if the media industry has begun to seriously crack down on private individuals that download movies, songs and software programs in South Africa. It has already happened in other parts of the world and millions of dollars worth of lawsuits and settlements have taken place. Many young people’s lives have already been ruined by a simple download that was traced to them and they had to settle for thousands of dollars to avoid prosecution.
If you are parent or an employer, we seriously recommend that you ensure that none of the people using your internet connection have any form of “torrent” or download software installed on their computers. It is only a matter of time before they are caught and you, as the owner of the internet connection could face fines totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars or even be held criminally liable.
How will you be caught? Easy. Every time you connect to the internet, your ISP (Axxess, AfriHost, MWEB, Telkom, etc) give your router an IP address of theirs to use. They log this IP address every time you use their internet connection and you as the user. The record & movie companies or a willing representative then place a popular movie, program or song on one of their servers that are monitored or simply collect historical information from the computers obtained from prior convictions and confiscations. Your torrent software detects their server as a valid source of downloading from and give you access to it. They record your IP address as well as when and what you downloaded.
Firewalls don’t help you. Special VPN software like “Hide my A$$” don’t help either. Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security. Don’t let some smug “IT expert” or “friend” tell you otherwise. You can and will be traced. When you connect to a VPN like “Hide my A$$”, your IP is logged with them, and HMA’s IP is logged with the torrent, so all the investigators have to do is trace it back to HMA, to your ISP and then back to you. There is no way that you can hide your internet connection. Once you are caught and pursued, it will end up costing you a lot of money in legal fees – regardless of whether you manage to avoid prosecution.
You’ve been warned. We advise you to check your kid’s computers, to send out a memo to all staff regarding this and warning them that they will be held personally liable and that you will be forced to assist in prosecuting them if you are investigated.
We strongly advise that you get your IT support company to ensure that no torrent software is installed on your site. These four recent incidents in Port Elizabeth that we are aware of are probably just the tip of the iceberg. We expect a lot more people will be confronted, and caught up in expensive court battles and forced into costly legal settlements in the next few months.
If you have illegal movies, software, games, or music at home – given to you by friends, don’t think you are safe either. As part of settlements, the investigators often demand lists of people that may have been supplied illegal items. Do you honestly trust your “friends” not to ‘fess up to save their own butts when faced with the very real threat of financial ruin or a prison sentence? We wouldn’t.
If you are one of those guys who brags to friends about your illegal movie, game or music collection and how you can get them anything they want – for free, now would be the time to stop this. If you are selling these items for a “copy” fee, We hope for your sake that you are not already on the radar.
If you are running your business on illegal software, it is time to go legit.
The free lunch of illegal, pirated games, movies, software and music in South Africa appears to be over.