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Customers of Virgin Media and Other UK ISPs Hit by Piracy Letters UPDATE

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021 (2:34 pm) - Score 43,416
copyright alert uk internet piracy

Customers of several UK broadband ISPs, including Virgin Media (VMO2), have just become the first in a long while to receive a new round of settlement letters (aka -“speculative invoicing“), which tend to be perceived as bullying subscribers by demanding money to settle suspected cases of internet piracy (copyright infringement).

Over the years a number of organisations, which typically act on the orders of Rights Holders, have sent letters to those they suspect of having committed copyright infringement. Such letters often rely upon fallible IP address based evidence – often gathered via public BitTorrent P2P file sharing networks – to identify suspected infringement.

In this approach, people are presented with some limited details about their alleged infringement and encouraged to reach a settlement (this could cost hundreds of pounds). People who refuse can be threatened with court action, although such action almost never occurs and those cases that have been attempted in the past were not successful due to weak evidence. Put another way, the letters largely rely on scaring people into paying.

The latest example comes from a company called Voltage Holdings LLC (Voltage Pictures), which has been using such methods in other countries to tackle suspected movie pirates for a long time. However, before such firms can do this, they first have to match IP addresses, times and dates of the alleged activity to account owners, which requires them to submit a Norwich Pharmacal Order (NPO) to the court.

The NPO forces ISP to release the details of any associated subscribers (e.g. name, address etc.), which is precisely what happened to Virgin Media in July 2021. TorrentFreak reports that a commercial law firm, Lewis Silkin LLP, has now begun sending out the aforementioned letters, which targets those who pirated a mediocre film called ‘Ava‘ – starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell.

Recipients of these letters are then given just 14 days to respond to Lewis Silkin with their proposals. Customers at a number of other UK ISPs are also understood to have been targeted, although we don’t yet know which ones (such things are usually limited to the biggest players).

Extract from Voltage’s Letter

This letter assumes that you, as the account holder for the infringing IP Address, were the user of the relevant device on the dates and times at which Ava was shared without the consent of VOLTAGE. The purpose of this letter is therefore to give you an opportunity to admit or deny that your broadband account was used via BitTorrent in relation to Ava on the occasion specified above.

Since the file-sharing is unlawful, VOLTAGE is entitled to bring court proceedings against you if it can show on the balance of probabilities that you are the person who engaged in the file-sharing or if you authorized or allowed someone else to do so using your broadband connection.

This claim would be brought in a specialist civil court called the Intellectual Property Enterprise court, where liability is determined on the balance of probabilities. The onus would be on VOLATGE to prove these allegations of infringement.”

Naturally, such letters can only target the bill payer for a broadband service, which is itself often shared among many friends, family and visitors via a local WiFi network (more if it’s used for a business, such as an AirBnb). All of that makes it incredibly difficult to identify the responsible individual. At the same time, the data itself can sometimes also be incorrect (e.g. spoofed IP addresses and slight errors in the logs / timings) and may thus end up targeting the wrong connections / accounts.

As we said earlier, such campaigns don’t have a terribly strong history of success in the UK. The courts have also previously warned such firms to be very careful about the use of threatening language, given that those being targeted are not yet proven to be guilty of what they are accused.

Voltage seems to require the letter recipients’ to convince the firm that they weren’t responsible, but in law, the burden of proof is normally on Voltage to prove that the recipient is the one responsible and not the other way around.

Other test cases have also been thrown out due to the poor quality of evidence involved. As a result of all this, the copyright trolls tend to rely on people coughing up cash of their own accord (i.e. admitting guilt), since the cost of actually pursuing subscribers through the courts, given the seemingly low chance of success, often isn’t worth the risk.

Generally, if you know or believe yourself to be innocent of this kind of 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 solicitor’s help, then Michael Coyle from Lawdit may be able to assist.

UPDATE 16th Sept 2021

We’ve had a comment from Virgin Media.

A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

“We take the privacy and security of our customers’ data very seriously. Virgin Media will only ever disclose customer information to third parties if required by law to do so through a valid Court order.

In this case a Court order was successfully granted to Voltage Pictures which means a very small number of Virgin Media customers may now receive correspondence from this organisation.

Any customer who receives a letter should note that the Court has not yet made any findings of copyright infringement against them. This would be a matter to be determined by the Court in any subsequent claim.”

Take note that the word “small” is a relative term for a provider with millions of customers. Small could be a few thousand, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands.

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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
43 Responses
  1. Moss says:

    These folks make me laugh a lot. That is a weak way of proving that some one or a group or percentage of folks pirated their baby.

    1. Chippy Tits says:

      It’s only a weak way for those who are savvy enough to know it’s total bullcrap and can just ignore such letters. For some, such letters will scare the living daylights out of them and will reluctantly pay to avoid “legal action”. Education is the key here! (which the likes of ISPr should be applauded for)

    2. David sobis says:

      I been pirating movies since 2008 I never been fined or sent to court by the copy right trolls why should us movie fans and tv show fans get ripped off by likes of Netflix Amazon prime Disney plus ect when you get your stuff for free on pirate bay and use either frost wire or BitTorrent those movie actor and actors are overpaid and the premier league footballers compared to the working man or woman

    3. Gedfan says:

      Probably the same people who write letters to people with car registration numbers who ‘overspent’ the supermarkets ‘maximum alloted parking time’. Also unenforceable as they can’t prove who was driving, but they try and scare people into paying.

      Rip up all letters like this.

  2. Winston Smith says:

    Apparently Ava grossed just $3.3 million worldwide (according to wikipedia) and movies like this cost around $60 to $100 million to make, distribute and market.

    This is looking like an attempt to make up the short-fall.

    Won’t someone think of the moguls!

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      What I don’t get here is any tin-pot company who are basically just rights holders for a movie company can force any ISP to hand over customer names and addresses.
      And why should they be compelled too? It’s a great way to lose customers when you’re not protecting their information.

      How the high court allowed the Norwich Pharmacal Order not to be affected by GDPR is totally laughable.

      Interesting read here: https://www.burges-salmon.com/news-and-insight/legal-updates/intellectual-property/norwich-pharmacal-disclosure-relief-unaffected-by-the-gdpr

      Still, Not one company currently operating this scheme has ever taken one single case to court. Its a fishing expedition hoping people will be so scared they just pay up, nothing more. Chuck it in the bin, where it belongs.

    2. John H says:

      Speculative invoice or not never put any alleged debt letter in the bin, if they ever did get the required info, the debt dies after 6 years (5 years in Scotland) so the letter is proof of when it will die its final death regardless of the claims lack of proof. File and keep safe.

    3. Spurple says:

      Gross revenues are paltry across the board for cinema. When I last visited one after restrictions were eased, there must have been less than 20 people in total at the entire 8 screen cinema, and I had one screen to myself to watch Fast and Furious 9 lol.

    4. Buggerlugz says:

      Which should have told you the quality of the film you’d decided to visit the cinema for…..lol

    5. Winston Smith says:

      @Spurple Tenet, which was also a 2020 release, grossed over $360 million worldwide.

  3. Aaron L says:

    The GDPR and DPA are nothing more than the right for companies to hold data on you. If a court order is put together then they may be forced to part with information. Although the application needs strong grounds.

    Most smart cookies will use VPN and other types of I.P. masking to withhold or circumvent information being mirrored or readable by people snooping in.

    Simply put if you don’t know how to hide your activity you shouldn’t be doing anything illegal. I do not condone any piracy. It’s just common sense and you shouldn’t be surprised if you get caught or accused of it. An ip address alone is not proof alone of piracy.

    1. Spurple says:

      It must be added, that you can’t really hide your IP address, even with the use of a VPN. A VPN merely adds red tape to unmasking you. If you piss off a powerful of suitably motivated entity, they will find you. Movie rights holders simply aren’t yet motivated enough to tackle VPNs.

      There was recent news about how the Swiss Government invoked national security powers to force a private email provider who promoted a “no logs” policy to log the activity of a user they were after. The user was merely a climate activist: https://www.google.com/amp/s/techcrunch.com/2021/09/06/protonmail-logged-ip-address-of-french-activist-after-order-by-swiss-authorities/amp/

    2. AQX says:

      @Spurple – The sad thing with Proton is that they didn’t even notify anyone of the change to their Tos which they changed their IP log stance on, especially how that was their original sales point.

  4. RaptorX says:

    This nasty scam, along with a few other factors, are precisely the reasons why I stick to the smaller ISPs. Those other factors are that they won’t sell you out, block websites and have much better and more competent customer service.

    Been doing that for over a decade now, it’s been great and I’m gonna continue.

    1. David sobis says:

      Continue with it lad I am doing the same since my first computer been pirating ever since couldn’t careless about copy right or piracy as Netflix and Amazon ect are a rip off anyway get it free on pirate bay torrent sites ect good picture quality screw them .

    2. Ben says:

      If they got given a request they’d have to legally comply with it still. Unfortunately not really O2VM’s fault here.

      Might consider remembering to turn on my VPN in the future now though (I haven’t received one of these letters nor watched/downloaded the film in question)

  5. Mark says:

    I would simply write back.

    “I deny using my connection to download such a terrible film, I can think of far better ways to waste my bandwidth. For instance there are some awesome videos on YouTube of paint drying in real time!”

    1. jane smith says:

      Youtube has real time videos of grass growing, far more intersting

    2. Laurence Parry says:

      Nice try, but you can’t get away with pirating “Paint Drying” just because someone posted a clip to YouTube. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paint_Drying

  6. Mike Brewer says:

    Mark, has your account been taken over? The writing is awful to say the least. Style, linguistics, and general understanding of language is appalling, what’s going on?

    1. Mike Brewer says:

      Bother, reading the letters sent not your article. Apologies.

  7. Mike says:

    Anyone who gets one of these should read the Speculative Invoicing Handbook (just Google the name it’s an easy to find and free pdf).

    Generally a well crafted letter is sufficient along with a reminder that further such letters will be considered harassment.

    1. MrDeo says:

      Actually, Anyone who gets one of these should stop pirating content.
      Buy it, Rent it, Borrow it, or don’t watch it.

  8. Stephen says:

    All that porn I’ve got off BitComet and not one single letter has ever arrived. Guess they’ve got enough billions to not be bothered. On the other hand, I ALWAYS buy my films, games and music.

  9. Steveocee says:

    Who even pirates any more? Streaming services are so accessible it’s just not worth the bother.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The problem there is not accessibility, it’s content fragmentation, since in order to access all the content you want you’d have to subscribe to 5-6 different platforms, and the total cost of that removes the benefit. This in turn pushes people back toward piracy.

    2. David sobis says:

      Streaming sites online you have to pay like Netflix ect and the free steaming sites are rubbish just have adds during a movie no thanks I just carry on using pirate bay with a VPN ect .

    3. Marek says:

      Different countries have different sets of movies and show or nothing available at all, Disney+ can’t be used in half of Europe, HBO MAX only in USA currently

    4. Mike says:

      There’s also a lot of stuff that simply isn’t available that can only still be found on P2P networks, also many of these services no longer allow VPN’s which are necessary in this day and age given the rise of authoritarianism and government spying.

  10. Seth Richardson says:

    I run an AirBnB, I can’t control/dictate what my guests use my Internet for.

    1. MrDeo says:

      Yea, That stinks.
      That’s why robbers rent vans from the van rental company instead of using their own personal van. Because the van company has no control over it and they are protected from anyone getting their personal information if they break the law (civil or criminal).

      If I ran an AirBnB then I would likely just reply to them stating it’s a rental proptery and ask for a name of the person who was infringing on the service. You would never hear back from them, and if they ever did take legal action (they won’t) then you have proof you actioned the problem.

  11. MrDeo says:

    I like how many people on here support illegal behavior.
    Been fighting dumb views like that for years.

    Just because you are unlikely to get caught (Highly Unlikely really) – that doesn’t make it okay.
    Just because you are hihghly unlilely to ever get fined/go to court (Probably Never in actual fact) – that doesn’t make it okay.

    Do I agree that the distribution model that currently exist is flawed – Yea. Do I think that some content cost wayyy too much – Yea. Do I think that some of the artist / labels are overpaid for their parts – Big Yea.

    Others pointing out that the film wasnt profitable (Who knows – I think they view profit in terms of months out of the gate, not years down the road, My investments I look at on a 10 year cycle to know if it’s “worth it”, meh, I digress). Others poining out the film wasnt profitable thus it’s okay to download just seems honestly dumb.

    Imagine Warburtons finding that their “toastie” was making a loss and everyone started stealing “toastie” loafs from the delivery trucks because – It’s not profitable. That really helps things out right, and hey it’s okay because, err, what?

    If you object to the high pay of “Sports”, “Television”, and other “Media” stars then STOP consuming their goods. That’s how you object to it.

    I am not saying I am a saint or anything, but obviously you should know wrong is wrong and not do it.

    1. Ryan says:

      I don’t disagree with your general sentiment but you’re not helping your argument by making false comparisons. Online piracy and theft of physical goods is not even remotely similar.

      Online piracy does not prevent the sale of goods to other customers. It is not “stealing” and is only a loss of potential revenue.

    2. Ryan says:

      The distinction between “illegal” and “unlawful” is also helpful to understand when making these arguments.

    3. Winston Smith says:

      @ MrDeo – Thanks for calling me dumb, particularly as you seem to have missed the point of the article and my response concerning the profitability of the movie in question.

      I don’t think the article is condoning illegal filesharing, it’s arguing that this method of attempting to recoup supposed losses is unethical, draconian and poorly targeted.

      To recap, the evidence collected doesn’t prove that the movie in question was actually downloaded by the account controlled by the recipient of the letter.

      Even if it was, there is also no proof that the account holder either downloaded the file personally, or gave permission or allowed it happen, for any reasonable definition of allowed.

      The letter attempts to extort a disproportionate sum of money, given that the movie is legally available to buy at Amazon for £4.99, using vague threats of large costs if the recipient refuses.

      I was speculating that the owner took this cynical, unethical and relatively rare form of action because this particular movie had lost money.

  12. Mike says:

    Don’t virgin media use people’s hubs as WiFi hotspots for other customers? Just say to the sketchy law firm that ás you have no control over who connects to the public hotspot running on your hub, you can’t be responsible for what people do on it..

    1. John H says:

      BT do, never heard of Virgin doing that.

  13. Dagnis says:

    To avoid DMCA, use seedbox services hosted in Netherlands. Problem solved.

  14. Stoat says:

    The return of Guardaley – you’d think that the Prenda law saga would have taught them not to do this (14 years, 5 years and 18 months in jail for defrauding the court plus perjury)

    Then again the actual kingpins in Germany didn’t get jailed and kept their anonoymity

    Jump on Techdirt and search for Guardaley and check out fightcopyrighttrolls for the saga

  15. Mr Anderson says:

    I just got one letter saying I download part of movie Ava but I watched it on Netflix and never even liked it . I am being threatened by silkin and asked to settle out of court an arranged fee . Virgin media gave out my address so that trolls can harass me . What should I do ? This was meant to be 16 months ago I downloaded this movie from BitTorrent which I have not even used . Worried

    1. Whodis says:

      How much did they ask for by any chance?

      I imagine paying for a solicitor would be a decent idea too.

  16. Rachel says:

    We’ve just got this letter too and we don’t even know that this movie existed. Should we be worried? We are just going to deny it but it’s ridiculous!

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