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Lawdit Predicts End of Illegal UK Copyright ISP File Sharing Settlement Letters

Posted: 22nd Jan, 2011 By: MarkJ
p2p copyright uk ISP file sharing lawlawdit_uk_solicitors.gifA Southampton-based solicitors firm, Lawdit, has predicted that next week could signal the beginning of the end of "speculative invoicing", a tactic used by dubious law firms to threaten and make money out of broadband ISP customers whom are "suspected" of unlawful copyright infringement (P2P File Sharing) activity.

The firms typically track alleged piracy by monitoring the IP addresses of internet users, which is assigned to your computer each time you go online and made public on P2P networks. This is not an effective way of determining a person's true identity because, at best, it will only reveal the connection owner (i.e. could be a shared network or business).

An IP can also easily be faked, hijacked, redirected and generally abused or used in ways that the systems employed by such trackers cannot detect. Furthermore the data itself can end up being unreliable due to natural discrepancies or errors (dates, times etc.) between an ISPs log files and that of the law firms.

Michael Coyle, Lawdit's founder, said:

"Lawdit was also contacted by three foreign companies asking for their assistance in becoming involved. I declined of course smelling the potential trouble. Of course it was an attractive proposition. You enter in to a loose and contrary to the rules 'no win no fee' obtain the list of names via a court order and send out threatening letters. The key was pitching the sums just right ie "we demand £600" or "we go to court and costs will escalate to the tens of thousands". Most I presume pay up. You go to a solicitor and he will ask for £500 on account of costs.

You may have downloaded the item in question, you may not have. Someone in your house, your son, etc may have downloaded it. Your name was on the bill, you have been identified, you are guilty therefore pay. The lawyers sat back and waited for the money to roll in and I am sure it did. Remember this has got nothing to do with copyright protection or the rights of the holders. It has everything to do with bullying and intimidation; the evidence in their possession proved one thing only; it identifies the bill payer nothing more."

Recently a number of things have begun to occur and look set to finally change this dynamic, which many consumers feel to be a tactic that has more in common with blackmail than real law work. Firstly, some big UK ISPs ( BT , PlusNet ) have started to stand up by actually challenging Norwich Pharmacal Orders (NPO), which request the release of related customer data.

Secondly the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has officially referred several related firms, including ACS:Law (Andrew Crossley) and Davenport Lyons UK, to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) over their threatening letters.

In the latest twist even courts have now started to wake up to the problem and appear to be growing less inclined to tolerate such firms. Next week this could all come to a head when Judge Birss QC tackles ACS:Law and intermediary MediaCAT head on about some of their tactics (here).

Michael Coyle added:

"It is difficult to guess how many letters were sent out over a three year period but I would presume over a hundred thousand. The Lawyers have made a fortune but it looks like its all coming to an end as the Courts have finally woken up and started to throw out the cases which I hope on Monday will mean the end of this whole debacle.

A black mark goes to the courts for taking such a long time to wake up to the injustice of the campaigns, the Information Commissioner who was frankly a waste of space and for those Solicitors who ought to know better. Our hourly rates for copyright work are in the region of £200-500+VAT but if you have to resort to this type of work you are either not very good or greedy but I suspect its a combination of the two.

It remains to be seen who will pick up the baton. If they are Solicitors a word of warning, you cannot run a campaign of intimidation and expect to get away with it for as long as the other two firms especially when the only evidence in your possession is the name of the person who pays the bill. If you decide to start a new campaign then my guess is you will be before the SRA within 12 months."

On top of all that there's also the 2010 Digital Economy Act (DEA) to consider, although this is currently subject to a Judicial Review (here and here) in the early spring and as a result it's unclear whether or not its final form will need some adjustment. The recent developments have also delayed Ofcom's construction of a code to go alongside the DEA. More next week.
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