The Open Rights Group (ORG) has applied for permission to intervene in a court case between Golden Eye International, which holds the copyrights for various adult films (Ben Dover), and O2 UK. The move could potentially help to stop up to 6,000 of the ISPs customers receiving dubious internet piracy claim letters.
In July 2012 London’s High Court granted Golden Eye permission to send letters to 2,845 customers of O2, specifically targeting those individuals whom were suspected of having engaged in copyright infringement by sharing related adult content out over public P2P file sharing networks.
But it was not a total victory for GoldenEye, which had originally hoped to secure the personal details of accounts associated with 9,124 internet connections. An excellent effort by Consumer Focus meant that Golden Eye was also ordered to soften their letters, which effectively now required recipients to incriminate themselves before any settlement claims could be made.
The situation effectively left data pertaining to roughly 6,000 O2 internet connections in limbo because they related to claims from 12 other copyright holders, whom had not joined the case and thus Golden Eye could not represent them (Golden Eye stood to keep 75% of any related cash settlements). In short the court ruled that O2 should not supply the related customer data and rejected “the sale of the intended Defendants’ privacy and data protection rights to the highest bidder“.
Golden Eye is now appealing that aspect of the refusal (Court of Appeal) and as a result the Open Rights Group has decided to step in and pick up where Consumer Focus left off.
“The appeal relates only to the refusal to grant the Norwich Pharmacal Order in relation to the 12 pornographic film producers. We believe the High Court was right in its original decision here.
If we are successful, O2 will not be forced to hand over the personal data it retains relating to just over 6,000 IP addresses. If the Court of Appeal upholds the High Court’s decision to refuse disclosure orders to companies who enter “enforcement only” licences with copyright owners many more Internet users will in the future be protected from copyright enforcement revenue sharing schemes like this.
These revenue sharing agreements were the root of “speculative invoicing” schemes previously run by Davenport Lyons and ACS:Law. But because Golden Eye International is a limited company it is beyond the reach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which has suspended Dave Gore, Brian Miller and Andrew Crossley for sending intimidating letters.
To be clear, copyright holders and their exclusive licensees would still be able to enforce their copyright. This is about limited companies acting on behalf of large numbers of copyright owners on ‘enforcement only’ arrangements.”
Sadly court cases are an expensive business and the Open Rights Group needs £5,000 to pay court fees and their “crack legal team“. A Donations Page has already been setup. It should be said that the ORG is currently “applying for permission” to intervene and has not yet been granted the permission itself, although they appear to have the support of Consumer Focus and a refusal would appear to be unlikely.
It’s worth remembering that related piracy abuse is typically tracked by monitoring the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of online users, which are assigned to your computer each time you go online and made public by P2P networks. But IP’s can easily be faked, hijacked or even shared (e.g. public Wi-Fi, hotels, office networks etc.) in ways that, as the SRA’s Timothy Dutton QC described in 2011, turns it into evidence of the “flimsiest” variety.
As the original Golden Eye case revealed, at best an IP address can only be used to identify the connection owner whom may not be responsible for the actual offence.
UPDATE 26th November 2012
As expect the ORG has today been granted permission to intervene in the appeal by Golden Eye.
Jim Killock, ORGs Executive Director, said:
“We are really pleased to be able to represent what we believe are Internet users’ privacy interests in this appeal hearing. We are following the work of Consumer Focus in doing so in the first instance.”
The group added that it had so far managed to raise £3,800 of the £5,000 needed to intervene.