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How a third party internet company tried to extort money from porn viewers with the help of a federal judge

redtubeEarlier this month, the  German law firm Urmann + College had been sending thousands of threatening letters to people it accused of watching streaming video on the porn site RedTube. This recent case of RedTube and the Swiss company The Archive AG demonstrates how Germany let itself be exploited by working internet savvy firms against clueless federal judges.

According to The Tech Map’s Stefan Brunner, the scam works like this: The Archive AG buys the rights to a few movies that were being streamed on RedTube, they then create a proxy that mimics RedTube and tracks the IP of the people who viewed the titles The Archive AG owned.

Urmann + Collegen (who represents The Archive AG) twice tried to extort money from porn viewers. Last year they sent ransom letters to the individuals who were identified illegally and stated they would be exposed as pornographers if they didn’t pay a fee. This time, with the help of a federal judge, they were threatened to pay up to €250 ($344) per clip on the basis of copyright infringement. These were both (eventually) deemed illegal.

After the first attempt, Urmann + Collegen had developed a plan to ask the German courts to release the IP addresses of the individuals they claimed were involved in “copyright infringement.” The judge never questioned that streaming content was not illegal in Germany; he instead, took the word of the law firm that something illegal was being done and ordered the release of the IP addresses by the internet service providers. The threatening letters were then sent.

What this did in a nut shell, was take a case based upon a few thousand illegally collected IP addresses and, through the order of the court, grew that case into tens of thousands of now legally, although shady, ordered IP addresses. What does this mean to the German people? Well, it means that not only does your government have the means to spy on you, but they also don’t know the lingo well enough to stop the means of extortion from falling into the wrong hands.

The judge not only released the IP addresses of those costumers, but also had those IP addresses translated into physical postal addresses and released those as well. Yes, if you are staring at your screen in abject horror, then you might have something close to the correct expression of en masse personal violation that was accomplished. Merry Christmas, RedTube porn viewer! You’ll receive your scarlet letter a wee bit later. Don’t worry though, most of your neighbors are now being targeted, at random, with extortion emails posing as a legal document requesting funds for the exchange of not being listed in the lawsuit.

Even with the recent events of the German government slowly realizing its error and reversing the course in a PR Blitz that included a letter to the people affected stating not to pay the fine since it wasn’t legally gained (the letter, by the way, was easy to send since they already released the physical addresses of those people) and that the law firm is now being investigated for requesting information given by the court with dubious means and wording.

In other words, the German government is washing its hands of this and playing victim instead of owning up to the fact that they haven’t a clue how to protect their citizens from the information being used against them by a third party. Although, I do believe that information gathered via internal surveillance would be better secured if it wasn’t given out willing to those third parties by judges who couldn’t understand the difference between an IP address and a Postal address.

The current state of things is best summed up by a statement the South China Morning Post’s issued from the president of RedTube, Alex Taylor:

“RedTube stands by its firm opinion that these letters are completely unfounded and that they violate the rights of those who received it in a very serious manner,” as he continued to describe the actions as” blackmail and a violation of privacy.”

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