Italian police raiding P2P users – not!

Panic Attack

Italian Net users are in panic mode after leading newspaper and website Repubblica.it published an article last week claiming that the Guardia di Finanza (tax police) is prosecuting over 3,000 P2P users for illegal file sharing, staging a massive raid. The article has since been picked up by all media outlets, including national TV.

This has evoked widespread visions of hordes of pubescent youths being dragged into jail, over mamma's high-pitched pleading with gun-toting officers, because they downloaded Eminem's latest rap track.

The usual cries of "Fascist regime" are spreading in Italian newsgroups, fuelled by the recent approval of the Italian version of the controversial EUCD (EU Copyright Directive), which Repubblica.it alleges is the legal basis for this spectacular crackdown. In keeping with local tradition, several politicians have tried to grab the limelight by loudly denouncing this legal monstrosity, forgetting alas that they are the ones who did precious little to stop it before it was approved.

They also forgot to check their facts before spewing their higher-than-average dose of hot air. The entire Repubblica.it story is, in fact, simply false. So, Italian Reg readers, don't panic.

The Repubblica.it article had plenty of indications of being written by clueless journos - a somewhat redundant definition when it comes to IT reporting in Italy. For example, it alleged that Italian police had shut down the core sites of this illegal trafficking. This struck me as a rather dubious claim, since P2P circuits by definition are decentralized. Had the Italian police really achieved this, I'm sure the RIAA would be begging to read their HOWTO.

So I phoned Captain Mauro Piccinni, who is in charge of the Milan police branch that launched the alleged raid, and asked for details. It turns out that there is no wide-ranging raid on average Joe Downloaders. His branch is merely prosecuting a group of about 200 Italian Net users who were buying and selling pirate CDs containing copyrighted software, music and movies, which is a crime that carries a prison sentence. Not-for-profit P2P sharing does not.

Piccinni vehemently denied any involvement of ordinary P2P users in his investigation. P2P was mentioned to Repubblica reporters only because the illegal material was originally downloaded from KaZaA and the like by the ringleaders of this petty gang. Moreover, the investigation began last September, before new copyright laws came into force in Italy, so the EUCD has nothing to do with the whole mess. But why let mere facts get in the way of an interesting story? ®

Paolo Attivissimo is an Italian-English technical translator and "Information technology popularizer". His views on IT reporting in Italy are strictly his own - honest! Italian readers can check out Paolo's website here.

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