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By: MarkJ - 18 March, 2010 (8:32 AM)
pirate flagMobile operator and ISP O2 UK (Telefonica) has accused rights holders and their hired lawyers of bullying and threatening their customers. The outburst centre’s around letters from ACS:Law solicitors, which use questionable methods to identify "suspected" illegal p2p file sharers before gaining personal details from ISPs. ASC:Law then demand hundreds of pounds in compensation or threaten a day in the courts.

An O2 spokesperson told BBC News Online :

"Where we are legally obliged to provide information and the correct paperwork is presented, we will comply with the law. But we prefer the 'win-win' approach of encouraging the development of new business models that offer customers the content they want, how they want it, for a fair price."

The practice of sending such letters has been widely criticized by consumer groups, judges and ironically even Rights Holders; often the very same ones who seek to use a similar practice themselves. The data they use to identify users is also prone to error and even when correct it can only identify the owner of a connection and not necessarily the individual responsible.

ACS:Law tracks abuse by monitoring the Internet Protocol ( IP ) address of online users, which is assigned to your computer each time you go online. However this is not an effective way of determining a computer user’s true identity. IP’s can easily be faked, hijacked, redirected and generally abused and used in ways that the systems employed by such trackers cannot detect.

During June 2009 the UK Internet Service Providers Association ( ISPA ) said that they were "not confident in [ACS:Law's] ability to identify [ILLEGAL] users", a position matched by consumer magazine Which? and many others.

Andrew Crossley of ACS: Law added:

"Neither we nor our clients threaten or bully anyone. We send out letters of claim to account holders of internet connections where those internet connections have been identified as being utilised for illegal file-sharing of our clients' copyrighted works. Our letter makes an enquiry in that regard and invites the recipient of our letter to respond to this evidence. In addition they are invited to enter into a compromise to avoid litigation."

We doubt many people receiving such letters would treat such a harsh demand for cash or court action as "an enquiry". ACS:Law also refers to copyright infringement as "stealing", which would be criminal and thus a matter for the police, though at the present time it remains a civil issue. This is of course very debatable.

In the meantime ACS:Law and its practice of sending such threat letters is, much like its predecessor Davenport Lyons, currently under investigation by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). The SRA could end up referring ACS:Law to a disciplinary tribunal, again just like Davenport Lyons (here).
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