Copyright groups hitting 3.6m file sharers a year

Andrew Crossley's much-vilified ACS:Law may have been wiped from the face of the earth, but the spectre of 'speculative invoicing' is alive and well.

The highly dubious practice, which in some cases results in technophobic pensioners being accused of downloading hard-core porn, sees law firms demanding large sums of cash form victims if they want to avoid being dragged through embarrassing and possibly expensive courts cases.

Although very few of these cases have come to trial, most of those that go that far have been dismissed because of the legal shortcomings of the litigating lawyers, or lack of evidence - because the accusations are based on data supplied by ISPs which can't reliably identify who was actually using the connection at the time of the infringement.

Unfortunately, these facts do little to change anecdotal evidence which suggests that a large proportion of people scared witless by the scabrous letters actually cough up the cash rather than risk public humiliation.

The whole scam is a numbers game which relies on a tiny fraction of those who receive the threatening letters being daft/scared/wealthy enough to cut a cheque for anything up to £1500.

Two recent cases in the US brought to court by the US Copyright Group - which might sound like a government agency but is just another money-grubbing legal outfit which has been sued for fraud and extortion - each saw more than 20,000 alleged file sharers accused of downloading movies based on shaky evidence forced out of ISPs by court orders.

Now, according to Torrent Freak, German ISPs are being asked to hand over the details of their users at a rate of more than 300,000 per month. That's more requests in one month than have been made in the entire United States since the Internet was invented.

The extraordinary numbers were published by Germany's Internet industry association ECO in an attempt to expose the money-making scam which has done little to reward artists for their endeavours, but seeks to make piles of cash for the copyright holders and law firms involved.

The ECO report says that a combination of these letters and the increased availability of digital media through legal channels has seen a 20 per cent drop in the level of piracy since 2008, but suggests that there's no need to demand huge cash payments as simply knowing they've been rumbled by their ISPs will stop people's piratic behaviour in most cases.

No-one could argue with any level of sanity that copyrighted works should be freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, but allowing law firms to demand money with menaces based on unreliable evidence is nothing short of a scandal.

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