PHL Cybercrime Law: Say goodbye to torrent and file-sharing

Cyber forum on cybercrime. From left: Blogger Juned Sonido, veteran journalist Ed Lingao, and lawyer-netizen Francis Acero during a virtual roundtable on the Cybercrime Law held at the JUMP Experience Center in Megamall.

MANILA, Philippines — Are you fond of downloading and sharing music and movie content online? With the newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act, this popular online activity may soon be put to an end, according to IT law experts present during a virtual roundtable on Thursday.

Lawyer Francis Acero said that when interfaced with the Intellectual Property Code, the new law may actually be far worse than the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) proposed in the US Congress late last year.

“What SOPA and PIPA aimed to do, the Cybercrime Law has done,” Acero said, referring to the objective of the two bills to curb the rampant sharing and downloading of movie and music content online, as lobbied by firms in Hollywood.

Under Section 6 of the law, all crimes “defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws” can be punishable under the Act if they are committed with, using, and through a computer system.

Among the country’s special laws, the Intellectual Property Code penalizes, among others, illegal distribution and consumption of copyrighted content.

University of the Philippines College of Law Professor Atty. JJ Disini, meanwhile, said that because of Section 6, the law essentially made all crimes a form of cybercrime when committed through a computer or Internet system.

Other provisions in the law, Disini said, are actually ingredients to a perfect recipe for law-enforcement agencies to crack down and monitor illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted content over the Internet.

Section 12 of the law, for instance, allows the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to collect real-time traffic data on individuals suspected of committing cybercrime offenses.

Section 19, meanwhile, also known as the “takedown clause” and has been likened to the “Great Firewall of China,” gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) sweeping powers to issue a block or restrict order against websites and systems violating the law.

“Pirate Bay, for example, can be blocked. All you have to do is to file a complaint with the DOJ and all of this could be gone,” Disini explained. Pirate Bay is a popular websites that hosts BitTorrent files containing movie, music, and other content.

There is no stopping media companies and content producers, therefore, from lodging copyright infringement complaints before the DOJ to have illegally-sourced material taken down from the Web.

But do law-enforcement agencies have the capability to track down those who download illegally through BitTorrent and other file-sharing networks? Disini thinks so, since the members of the police and the NBI have been receiving training on cybercrime for many years now.

“In fact, in the Hayden Kho sex video case, they were able to trace the person who first uploaded the video,” he said. “So yes, they have some capabilities.”

The possible effects of the Cybercrime Law on online file-sharing and downloading is just one of the least discussed repercussions of the new law, which both Acero and Disini said should further be clarified in the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

According to an earlier report, the Philippines ranks 10th in the world in terms of the amount of music content downloaded through the BitTorrent network.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act technically takes effect on October 3, or after 15 days it was published in the papers and on the Official Gazette on September 18. The President signed the law on September 12.

Even without an IRR, Disini said parties can already file suits against cybercrime offenses and the DOJ would not have a choice but to act on it.

The Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) is already looking for private sector and academe members that will form the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), a body tasked to draft the IRR of the law.

The DOJ has already set an initial meeting with stakeholders to draft the IRR on October 9.