Music biz condemns piracy court threats

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has hit out at law firm ACS Law following its heavy-handed approach to file sharers. The ruthless law firm has sent out threatening letters to alleged file-sharers, asking for compensation and threatening legal action. The BPI says that this is a step too far in the crackdown on piracy.

Adam Liversage, director of communications at the BPI, explained to Thinq that "it's important to distinguish between the approach that ACS Law is taking and the approach that we favour in the Digital Economy Bill." The BPI instead favours a gradual response, where suspected file sharers are sent a series of notifications.

According to Liversage, "If an alleged infringer effectively ignored those notifications, then they could face some kind of technical measures, or some kind of legal action." However, he also stressed that "what we are not in favour of is that the first approach from a rights holder is a letter which demands payment, backed up with the threat of legal action of it’s not forthcoming."

Even so, the approach proposed in the Digital Economy Bill also has its problems, not least the fact that it's impossible to be 100 per cent certain that you're targeting the right person. After all, people in shared accommodation could all have the same IP address, and it's also easy enough piggy-back onto a neighbour’s Wi-Fi connection, especially if it isn't protected.

However, Liversage says that it's the broadband account holder's responsibility to make sure that their connection is secure. "The first letter that the account holder would receive is very likely to be educational in nature, containing information about file sharing, how to secure wireless networks and that kind of thing," said Liversage, adding, "I think it's fair to say that it's broadly the account holder's responsibility to ensure that they take action upon receiving this notification."

Another issue in the ongoing crackdown on file-sharing is that the stats are often based on the amount of data downloaded and uploaded, rather than the content itself. Speaking to the BBC, Andrew Crossley from ACS explained that "the system is designed to monitor uploads not downloads. It is the equivalent of someone stood outside HMV with a pile of the latest albums, handing them out to people who were intending to go in the shop and buy it."

ACS has so far been unavailable for comment, but 150 of the people targeted by its legal threats claim to be innocent, and have already contacted Which about the issue.

Just how do you know whether someone has been uploading copyrighted files, or just performing an online backup? Liversage says: "Obviously we do not know who the customer or the broadband account holder is, but when they're active on file-sharing networks, they make their IP address visible so we can link the IP address to an infringing file.

"We make sure that that infringing file is actually a copyrighted file, and then we’re able to send a notification with information like the date, time, IP address, the infringing file and so on, to the ISP. It’s then for the ISP to communicate with their customer."

While it’s good to see the BPI condemning the appalling tactics of law firms here, it’s also frustrating to see that the alternative approach it suggests is also flawed. Making it the responsibility of the broadband account holder to make sure that their Wi-Fi account isn’t being cracked is extremely unfair and misguided, and it effectively means that the law will just end up chasing account holders, who in many cases may not be the file-sharer's targeted.

If you’ve been wrongly threatened with legal action related to file-sharing, then have a read through the Being Threatened website for some useful information about law firms making profits through fear.