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Illegal File Sharers Waiting Prosecution Must Face Legal Action

The Federation Against Software Theft : 15 February, 2011  (Technical Article)
FAST is calling on the British justice system not to fold under campaign to withdraw cases from the legal process
The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has urged the 26 cases currently facing prosecution for illegal downloading as a result of the letter writing campaign undertaken by ACS: Law, to be seen through to their natural conclusion.

The cases came about as a direct result of an internet investigation by ACS: Law and its partner company MediaCAT, which sent notices to alleged illicit file-sharers demanding they pay or face legal action.

In the past month however, ACS:Law announced in a statement to court that they would no longer be representing MediaCAT in pursuing the copyright infringement cases.  In effect this meant the legal firm wanted to withdraw all of the cases.

Julian Heathcote-Hobbins, General Counsel, FAST, stated: “The indignation about one or two law firm’s antics is a distraction from the real issue. People should know that if they wish to ‘lift’ a product, it carries a risk and that is of being caught. We would never question that due process must be followed and other rights respected, but these reasons are a smoke screen that illegal file sharing should still be tackled. This does not mean that the file sharing in general is wrong, just that if someone does not wish for their product to be shared on a p2p platform, it should not be. It’s a choice that should remain as one.”

“Much press coverage is being given over to the problems, politics and methods employed to catch infringers, but what has been forgotten is that the appreciation of value in digital IP is so low, many think nothing of sharing paid for product with friends and the world at large for free.”

“Judge Colin Birss at the patents County Court in London has himself stated that ‘I cannot imagine a system better designed to create disincentives to test the issues in the court’ and that it cannot drop the cases to avoid what he terms ‘avoid(ing) public scrutiny.”

“FAST is simply not going to comment on the actions of the two companies involved.  However in all the speculation, one fact is being overlooked and that there is a need to pursue infringers from time to time. If there is no absolute consequence, the behaviour is unlikely to change. Research conducted by media law firm, Wiggin has found that over two thirds of those who illegally download content from file-sharing sites would stop if asked by letter to do so. Sanctions have to be there.”

“It is understandable that Judge Birss has taken the correct decision stating the cases could not be discontinued, since the rights’ holders themselves should be given time to take further action themselves.

“Amongst the speculation around these cases, there is an interesting technical point which could cause legal debate.  Currently, as far as peer 2 peer investigations go, investigators have not managed to see past the IP address.  An IP address identifies a computer, not necessarily the actual person involved in the infringement,” he added. “This is another reason we would argue these case continues, as the technical aspects of this case need to be tested.  Doubters have argued that moral responsibility does not equate to legal responsibility as to who is using the account in their name.”

“Our argument is that the cases therefore need to be seen to conclusion so that if the judiciary criticises methods, these may be in turn improved meaning the innocent are not accused and those who persist in this activity can be held to account.”

The court has given MediaCAT and the copyright owners in question 14 days to join the action before it gets struck out, and a further hearing is set for March 16th 2011.
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