The saga, or soap opera depending on your viewpoint, that is the policing of copyright infringement in the UK continues. After recent leaks of personal data from ACS:Law, BT made a stance asking for guarantees over data security when the Ministry of Sound sought a court order to help them identify the name and address of broadband customers behind a list of some 150,000 UK IP addresses that DigiRights Solutions had compiled. Now it seems that after an earlier agreement by BT to retain some 20,000 customers details, it has now deleted this information citing a policy of deleting this data after 90 days.
With Ministry of Sound now saying it is suspending plans to send warning letters to some 25,000 BT customers, this raises questions about whether the pursuing of individuals accused of file sharing content illegally can continue. It seems not all the users details have been lost, some 20% remain, but the costs that BT is looking to charge for supplying this data has increased from a few thousand pounds to several hundred thousand pounds.
"It is very disappointing that BT decided not to preserve the identities of the illegal uploaders. Given that less than 20% of the names remain and BT costs have soared from a few thousand pounds to several hundred thousand pounds, it makes no economic sense to continue with this application. We are more determined than ever to go after internet users who illegally upload our copyrighted material.
We will be making further applications for information from all ISPs. Every time that a track or album is uploaded to the web it is depriving artists of royalties and reducing the money which we can invest in new British talent."Ministry of Sound chief executive, Lohan Presencer
There are many questions about the accuracy of the lists that are used to obtain these court orders, but as yet no-one has actually spent the time and money to successfully explore the accuracy in court. One complication is that since any action is a civil matter, absolute proof is not required, simply enough evidence to suggest that the infringement is more likely to have happened than not happened.
Current warning letters for copyright infringement usually offer people the chance to admit to the infringement and pay a settlement figure of several hundred pounds for what they are alleged to have done. A large chunk of this appears to be cost recovery by all the parties involved, with the amount going to the copyright holder being unclear. Things may change once the Digital Economy Act gets up and running, but just like in this Ministry of Sound case the costs of letter writing are very central, with the broadband provider who really has very little to gain from the process being responsible for 25% of the costs.
The Digital Economy Act is meant to provide an appeals process so those receiving the warning letters would be able to appeal, how simple this will be in practice is not known. Hopefully it will be simpler than having to go to the civil court which anyone wanting to challenge the current letters that are sent out has to do. Assuming people do not simply throw the warning letters in the bin, the first real feel for how big an issue copyright infringement really is will be the volume of letters sent out versus how many appeal against them due to mis-identification.