The original SOCA takedown noties on the RnBXclusive site sad
users could face up to 10 years in jail and an unlimited fine
A popular British music blog containing links to unlicensed music files has been shut down by the U.K. police agency SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency), with users of the urban music site threatened that they could face up to ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The shut down was put into effect Feb. 14 with a temporary holding message from SOCA posted on RnBXclusive's homepage stating : "SOCA has taken control of this domain name. The individuals behind this website have been arrested for fraud."
The SOCA statement went on to say that "the majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists." It also warned visitors that "if you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under U.K. law."
The holding notice, which drew a barrage of criticism from the file-sharing and online community, has since been taken down and replaced with the rather less threatening: "SOCA has taken control of this domain name."
A man involved with the website has been arrested for conspiracy to defraud and is out on bail pending further enquiries, according to SOCA. The enforcement agency says that in the week leading up to its shut down RnBXclusive.com received 70,000 daily users, the majority of which were males aged 18 to 25 years. IFPI estimates losses to legitimate businesses and artists caused by the site - which specialized in urban music and has been running since 2008 - to be £15m (about $23.5 million) a year.
According to a statement on the SOCA homepage,  the shut down operation was part of an "operational programmme aimed at protecting UK businesses and the wider economy." The action, which took place over 32 hours, has since resulted in three other copyright infringing music sites adopting take-down measures, says SOCA.
"One has taken itself offline voluntarily, one claims to be considering taking itself offline, and another has posted a claim on its home page to now only be dealing in legal music files following the activity," according to SOCA, although the sites in quesiton were not identified.
While take-down measures for copyright infringing websites or web pages are common practice in the U.K., the overly aggressive stance from SOCA regarding RnBXclusive.com, including the threat of ten years imprisonment for users found guilty of downloading unlicensed content, is believed to relate to RnBXclusive.com hosting links to music tracks that were obtained illegally from music companies before they were commercially released, therefore making it a fraud case rather than standard copyright infringement.
Predictably, SOCA's action prompted outcry from online rights activists with Loz Kaye, leader of grass roots politcal party Pirate Party U.K. calling the take-down notice "alarming."
"This disappearance of this site leaves many questions," Kaye said in a statement, adding: "It would now appear that we have police-led site blocking in the U.K." London-based organisation the Open Rights Group has also said that it has requested a meeting with SOCA to discuss the case.