By: MarkJ - 4 November, 2010 (6:51 AM)
p2p copyright uk ISP file sharing case delayedgallant macmillan ukThe Ministry of Sound (MoS) has officially abandoned its Norwich Pharmacal Order (NPO) against broadband ISP BT and sibling PlusNet UK. The NPO would have forced BT to disclose the personal details for 25,000 customers, specifically those that MoS suspected of having been involved with "illegal" (unlawful) P2P copyright music file sharing.

However the MoS claims it was forced to abandon its case, which was due to be heard early next year (12th January 2011), because BT's Data Retention policy meant that any related IP address logs were conveniently erased after 90 days. As a result the data for some 20,000 of the 25,000 affected customers no longer existed, which made the MoS case economical unviable.

Ministry of Sound CEO, Lohan Presencer, said:

"It's very disappointing that BT decided not to preserve the identities of the illegal uploaders. Given that less than 20% of the names remain and BT costs have soared from a few thousand pounds to several hundred thousand pounds, it makes no economic sense to continue with this application.

We are more determined than ever to go after internet users who illegally upload our copyrighted material. We will be making further applications for information from all ISPs. Every time that a track or album is uploaded to the web it is depriving artists of royalties and reducing the money which we can invest in new British talent."

A BT Spokesperson said:

"All such information is automatically deleted from our systems after 90 days in accordance with our data retention policy, the Ministry of Sound and its solicitors are well aware of this. Upon request from Ministry of Sound we saved as much of the specific data sought as we reasonably could and any not preserved must have been too old.

Our door remains open to Ministry of Sound and any other rights holder who wants to enforce their rights in a fair way through an established legal process."

Media lawyers Gallant Macmillan originally brought MoS's case ("Ministry of Sound Recordings Ltd v Plusnet Plc") during the summer, although the presiding judge, Chief Master Winegarten (CMW), adjourned it until 4th October 2010 in order to investigate significant public concerns (here).

Shortly thereafter ACS:Law, a highly controversial solicitors firm involved with similar litigation, negligently exposed their private email records to the public. These included thousands of confidential ISP subscriber details and financial data (here, here and here). The leak revealed serious problems with related NPO requests and caused a huge public outcry, which resulted in BT choosing to fight the MoS demand.

It's a well known fact that most UK ISPs have in the past chosen not to defend their customers against NPO requests, which are admittedly very costly and tedious. However such inaction has also allowed a culture of profiteering copyright law firms to surface.

Once these firms have obtained the IP data they will usually begin a process of sending demands for big settlement payments, often worth hundreds of pounds, to those identified. People who refuse to pay are threatened with legal action, which in reality rarely ever reaches the courts. Some of these firms are now facing Disciplinary Tribunals (here and here) for sending "bullying" letters like those described above.

Chief Master Winegarten said in September:

"There wouldn’t be this hue and cry unless you were pursuing people who were innocent. I can’t understand why in these thousands – hundreds of thousands – [of letters sent out] no-one has been sued."

Law firms typically track alleged abuse by monitoring the Internet Protocol ( IP ) addresses of online users, which are assigned to your computer each time you connect to the internet and made public on P2P networks. This is not an effective way of determining a computer user’s true identity and on several occasions innocent people appear to have been incorrectly targeted.

IP's can easily be faked, hijacked, redirected and generally abused or used in ways that the systems employed by such trackers cannot detect. Furthermore the owner of a particular connection/IP, such as in case of a hotel, business or shared public Wi-Fi network (secure or not), may not be the individual responsible for the actual act itself.

BT claims to be disappointed that its "concerns over the current process will not be examined by the Court", and has called for stricter safeguards. In particular it wants to make sure that customer data is handled in a secure way. BT would also like to establish a "threshold for providing a customer’s details based on a minimum number of separate incidents". The ISP also demands that law firms take a more reasonable approach to financial compensation.

In reality the equally controversial Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA) implementation will probably make future cases somewhat redundant. Sadly only because it will soon be much easier to obtain the data outside of a court. Ofcom is currently still working out the details.
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