UK ISPs making profit from piracy probes

Internet service providers in the UK are profiting from investigations into online piracy, by charging copyright holders and their representatives up to £120 to hand over details of customers accused of illegal downloading.

Anti-piracy organisation the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) told PC Pro that rights holders can only get hold of a suspected pirate's name and address by obtaining a court order.

And even then, ISPs can pretty much charge what they like for providing access. FAST chief exec John Lovelock said ISPs trousered fees of £85 per hour, up to more than £100 per query. Generally, he said, it was "a lot of money".

"In 2006, we ran Operation Tracker in which we identified about 130 users who were sharing copies of a security program over the web," Lovelock recalled.

"In the end we got about 100 names out of them, but that cost us £12,000, and that was on top of the investigative costs and the legal fees."

In criminal cases, ISPs must provide information free of charge, but because copyright infringement is a civil offence, ISPs can name their price.

ISPs are still fuming after being asked to pay 25 per cent of the costs of a new scheme to send out warning letters to suspected pirates, instituted under the controversial Digital Economy Act that was hastily passed by the outgoing Labour government.

Lovelock called on Ofcom to ensure that ISPs didn't try to recoup their costs by simply increasing the charges they make for processing requests for customer information.

"Ofcom is in the equation as we try to seek an agreement, and ISPs will have to convince them that the systems are fair," he said.