Tuesday, July 20, 2010

File sharers targeted with legal action over music downloads; (London) Guardian, 7/17/10

Miles Brignall, (London) Guardian; File sharers targeted with legal action over music downloads: Lawyers for Ministry of Sound and other music labels are seeking compensation, threatening court action unless file sharers pay:

"Solicitors for dance music label Ministry of Sound have sent letters to thousands of internet users it believes have illegally downloaded music and says it is determined to take them to court – and extract substantial damages – unless they immediately pay compensation, typically around £350.

Ministry of Sound's move marks an intensification of the legal battle against file sharers, which is seeing more and more lawyers send out what critics call speculative invoicing of downloaders suspected of pirating anything from music tracks to films and games.

Soho firm Gallant Macmillan last week completed a mailout to 2,000 individuals it claims infringed Ministry of Sound's copyright after downloading and sharing music. It follows in the steps of ACS:Law, which has sent many thousands of letters demanding compensation from alleged file sharers, sometimes billing in excess of £1,000. Luke Bellamy, above, contacted Money this week after receiving a £295 demand from ACS:Law, which alleged he downloaded and shared a track from dance music group Cascada.

Some recipients of the letters, concerned about forking out huge damages, have paid up. Others have been mystified – they claim never to have downloaded the tracks. Meanwhile, some legal specialists say the threats are largely unenforceable. Unless a user confesses to illegally downloading a file, or a court order is obtained to seize a computer and the file is then located on its hard drive, consumer groups say, it's hard to see how such an action will succeed.

Even the body that represents the UK recorded music industry, the BPI, which is keen to stamp out illegal filesharing, says it does not condone the mass-mailing of alleged internet pirates. "Our view is that legal action is best reserved for the most persistent or serious offenders, rather than widely used as a first response," it says.

Most recipients of the letters have binned them and, to date, avoided any further action. But Gallant Macmillan says it is taking a different approach to the other legal firms that pioneered this business, and that its sole client, Ministry of Sound, is serious when it threatens legal action. Until now, none of these cases have ended up in UK courts. A Ministry of Sound spokesman says that actions have been won in German courts, and it is confident that it can do the same in the UK.

Bellamy, 23, a lifeguard from Dudley, West Midlands, lives with his parents, but pays for the O2 broadband connection into the family home. The letter sent to him by ACS:Law claims his internet account was used to download Evacuate the Dancefloor by Cascada, from the filesharing website uTorrent.

The letter, which runs to nine pages, goes on to claim that this was in breach of ACS's clients' copyright, and offers to settle its potential claim if Bellamy pays nearly £300 in compensation.
"Getting a letter like this is extremely worrying. I have never downloaded anything from this website and yet I am being chased for this money. My parents have been worried by this, and frankly I've got better things to do with my time than deal with this."

And he is by no means alone. The internet is awash with similar complaints from anxious web users - many of whom who did download the files where they have been accused of infringing copyright, but also from plenty who insist they didn't. The letters demand anywhere between £300 and £1,200. The law firms sending the letters obtain the names and addresses of the downloaders from internet service providers (ISPs). To get access, they usually seek a high court order, and ISPs have no choice but to hand over the details.

In November 2008, Money first reported that solicitors were sending out threatening letters to net users. We featured a Hertfordshire couple sent a demand to pay £503 for "copyright infringement" or face a high court action. The 20-page "pre-settlement letter" from legal firm Davenport Lyons demanded money on behalf of German pornographers, who claimed the pair had illegally downloaded a porn film. The couple said they had no idea how to even download a film, even if they had the inclination, which they didn't.

Michael Coyle, solicitor advocate and MD of the Southampton-based law firm Lawdit, who has represented hundreds of people who have received these letters, says none of his cases have gone to court."


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