A 20-year-old man in Nottingham found himself under arrest after the City of London Police acted on an investigation by the Intellectual Property Crime Unit. This IPCU police force was put into place by the UK and much of their power comes from the Federation Against Copyright Theft law that is in place in the UK.
The Intellectual Property Crime Unit works to protect the copyright holdings of film companies, recording companies and other entities. Several sites, including giants like The Pirate Bay are blockaded in the UK, with ISPs completely shutting out access to them. What’s different about this case is that the young man who got arrested wasn’t responsible for running any such site. He wasn’t providing any copyright infringing material himself.
The Nottingham man was running a proxy server. This allowed users in the UK to get around the nation’s ban on sites like The Pirate Bay and to access the sites as if they were on an Internet connection that wasn’t censored or restricted.
The man was picked up as part of a police effort to stop pirate websites called Operation Creative. After sites are taken down, their homepages are replaced with police banners notifying any visitors that the site was responsible for providing content that infringed on copyrights and giving them alternative sites to find content.
In the case of the young man who is arrested, he didn’t provide any copyright infringing materials at all. He merely provided a means to access the Internet unrestricted and, for providers of services such as VPNs and proxies, that could be a significant development.
Any proxy server or VPN server is capable of providing people with access to sites that may be restricted in their area. This does not, however, mean that proxy services and VPN services are universally used to access content that is illegal in any regard.
The entertainment industry, copyright cartels and law enforcement agencies have become increasingly hostile toward user privacy and proxy servers and VPN services both provide users with a degree of privacy. Copyright infringement seems to be the latest tool being used to infringe upon the ability of people to run proxy services, which can be used to circumvent any type of Internet censorship, including political censorship or other types of oppression. Proxy services, however, do not offer content, copyright infringing or otherwise.