P2P pirate hunters defend bullying tactics

The company which snoops on P2P connections to unearth copyright pirates has defended it methods and makes no apology for those wrongly accused of breaking the law.

German company Digiprotect, which supplies IP address evidence to UK law firm ACS:Law, has told the BBC that it has no sympathy for those wrongly accused, saying, "In some cases the subscriber is not the rule breaker, but as they own the Internet access they are our initial point of contact. We make an enquiry of them as to how the infringement occurred and progress with the matter in an appropriate way depending on the response given."

Digiprotect, which uses an "automated process" to sniff out alleged wrong-doers, supplies ACS:Law with the IP addresses of Internet connections on which illegal file sharing is carried out. The law firm then applies for a court order to force the ISP which provides the connection to hand over the owner of the line's details.

Threatening letters are then sent to the address of the bill payer demanding that they cough up between £500 and £700 or face the possibility of a long and expensive court case.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that between 15 and 40 per cent of recipients pay up immediately, despite the apparent lack of evidence.

People who have been wrongly accused include married pensioners told in no uncertain terms that they are guilty of downloading hard-core gay porn.

"You have to regard the damages that are caused by illegal file-sharing. The ones who are traumatised are the content providers," the spokesman said with an apparently straight face.

It is widely believed that not a single case has ever been brought to court as a result of one of these accusations.

Deborah Prince, Head of Law at Which magazine, described the practice as "inherently unfair and unethical".