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UK Government Publish Guidance for ISP Users Hit by Piracy Threat Letters

Thursday, April 7th, 2016 (10:26 am) - Score 1,906
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The Government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has today published a very basic piece of new guidance that is designed to help consumers who may have received a letter that accuses them of having shared copyright material online via P2P (BitTorrent) file sharing networks.

A number of organisations send such letters (e.g. GoldenEye, TCYK LLC and Mircom) and they usually do so on behalf of the copyright holders, which is apparently still seen as a viable way of both making money and discouraging future abuse. The practice is so questionable that it’s often described as “Speculative Invoicing“.

Associated organisations usually track the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that people use on public P2P networks when sharing copyright files and then later submit a Norwich Pharmacal Order (NPO) to a court, which forces the linked broadband ISP to release details about any associated subscribers (e.g. name, address etc.).

The organisation will then begin sending letters that ultimately demand compensation for the abuse and those who fail to pay are often threatened with court action. In reality such court cases are usually too expensive to pursue and those that have been attempted were failures, not least because IP address based evidence is inherently unreliable (i.e. the data may be incorrect and or fail to reflect that many people can share a single Internet connection, especially if you run an open WiFi network).

Last month the UK Labour MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin, called on the Government to protect consumers after an 83-year-old customer of Sky Broadband, Patricia Drew, was dubiously accused of sharing unlawful copies of ‘The Company You Keep‘ film (here) and that’s despite her having only a minimum understanding of how to use a computer. Today’s guidance appears to reflect the Government’s official, if somewhat weak, response to these tactics.

Letters alleging online copyright infringement

1. What is copyright infringement

Copyright protects various forms of work and stops others from using it without permission. Copyright protected works may include music, books, photographs, films and many other forms of creative work.

Copyright infringement arises when protected material is copied, or distributed without the copyright owner’s permission.

2. Why might you have received a letter alleging you’ve infringed copyright

You may have received a letter if the copyright owner believes someone has used your internet connection to download copyright protected material, such as a film.

If the material was downloaded without their permission. For example from a file sharing website. Rights holders may seek compensation for the financial loss they have suffered. Companies such as Golden Eye, TCYK LLC and Mircom have taken action to get compensation in recent years.

It’s important to understand that the copyright owner can only take action against the person who actually committed the infringement. This may not be you. Your internet service provider (ISP) can only provide them with details of the internet account holder. Who may not be the actual infringer.

3. How did the copyright holder get your details

When files are downloaded from common file sharing services, such as those relying on the BitTorrent protocol. The IP addresses of all users currently sharing the file are visible. Copyright owners have systems to collect these IP addresses where they believe users are sharing material without their permission.

A copyright owner can then apply to the court for a Norwich Pharmacal Order. This order forces an ISP to give copyright owners names and addresses of account holders alleged to have committed the copyright infringement based on the IP address information.

4. What should you do if you receive a notification of alleged copyright infringement

Don’t ignore the letter. Even if you believe that you or anyone with access to your internet connection hasn’t downloaded the copyright protected material. You should respond, even if you request more time to seek advice before you provide a more detailed response.

If you didn’t know anything about the alleged copyright infringement check the letter is genuine. There are scams operating where letters are sent to try and gain compensation from you when you might not have to pay.

You should also check with anyone who might have access to your internet connection. For example family and friends who may have your permission and password to use your wi-fi. They may have downloaded or uploaded the copyright protected material. They may be responsible for the alleged infringement.

It is the responsibility of the copyright owner to prove who has committed the infringement. This may not be the internet account holder.

5. Where to get further advice

* citizens advice consumer helpline (03454 04 05 06 Textphone: 18001 03454 04 05 06 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
* your Internet Service Provider (such as BT, Sky, Talktalk, and Virgin) and other online sources
* get legal advice from a solicitor.

Generally, if you know or believe yourself to be innocent of the allegation, then it’s best to discuss the matter with Citizens Advice before responding and read the Speculative Invoicing Handbook. Likewise if you want a solicitors help then Michael Coyle from Lawdit often assists.

Sadly anybody hoping for the Government to take a more concrete stance against such letters will be left disappointed, if not surprised.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar RobertM

    And this is why you use a seedbox and SFTP

    Job done

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