Lawyers to continue piracy fight

Royal Courts of Justice
Image caption Lawyers are to ask PlusNet for users' data on 4 October 2010

A London law firm has pledged to continue to target file sharers, despite controversy surrounding the acquisition and care of users' data.

Gallant Macmillan is to go to the High Court on 4 October to seek the personal details of hundreds of PlusNet users.

Internet service providers have pledged to take a tougher stand before handing over data, after the leak of thousands of users' personal details by ACS:Law.

Simon Gallant told BBC News that he had "no problem" pursuing legal claims.

Mr Gallant's firm is seeking a court order from British Telecom-owned subsidiary PlusNet for the personal details of a "large number" of broadband users the firm suspects of illegally downloading and sharing music from the nightclub and record label Ministry of Sound.

The hearing is scheduled to be heard before Chief Master Winegarten at the High Court on Monday, and follows only a few days after the personal details of thousands of users were leaked online, following a security breach by the legal firm ACS:Law.

Users from 4chan, who have a long track record of internet activism, targeted ACS:Law during what it called Operation Payback.

ACS:Law's website was taken down for a few hours and after it was restored, it emerged that the company's e-mail database had been leaked online.

Many of the e-mails contained unsecured documents with the personal details of thousands of UK broadband subscribers.

PlusNet said it would now take a more rigorous stance against requests for user data.

"ACS:Law's actions have undermined the current legal process," a spokesperson for PlusNet told BBC News.

"It's in everyone's interests to restore confidence in this process so that broadband users are safeguarded and we are determined to do this.

"We are actively reviewing our approach to these disclosure requests to achieve this objective and this will inform our approach to Monday's hearing," they added.

But Mr Gallant said that, as far as he was concerned, "nothing has changed" and he hoped to get a list of users suspected of illegally sharing files.

"We are proceeding with the application," he said.

"I am aware this type of work is contentious and we have done a great deal of due diligence and are aware of all the concerns people have raised.

"Providing a rights holder can prove to me that they have a valid legal claim, why should I - as a solicitor - have any problem representing them?" he added.

Demanding letter

Like ACS:Law, Gallant Macmillan also sends out letters to users suspected of illegally sharing files.

The letter states that his firm has cause to believe that someone at the specific IP address (the electronic identity assigned to a person's broadband location and internet service provider) has illegally downloaded or shared music from the Ministry of Sound. It then asks users to sign an undertaking not to do so in the future and requests "compensation and costs" of £350.

To date, there has been only been a handful of cases brought against someone in the UK for illegally sharing a file.

"I don't know what percentage of people are going to compromise and pay the compensation," said Mr Gallant.

"But we are going to have to bring cases to court, because it would be quite wrong to send out hundreds of letters without following through."

The concept of sending out thousands of letters demanding compensation to users suspected of file sharing started in late 2007 by a firm called Davenport Lyons and then was expanded by ACS:Law.


It lead to the site being set up to assist users wrongly accused of illegally sharing files.

The policy of mass mail-outs has been criticised by many groups, including the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) which said earlier this year that "legal action is best reserved for the most persistent or serious offenders - rather than widely used as a first response".

Gallant Macmillan actions are likely to attract the ire of users of 4chan, who are currently targeting firms involved in combating online piracy.

Hackers temporarily knocked out the websites of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and then followed up with an assault on ACS:Law's website, which led to the subsequent security breach.

On Wednesday morning, Operation Payback triggered a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and the site was put out of action for a number of hours.

The latest post on the 4chan forum states that "Our new target is [UK based internet policing company]"

"We've not been hit yet, but our IT guys are aware," the firm's John Giacobbi told BBC News.

"We have a different attitude to online piracy than firms such as ACS:Law.

"What most file sharers are guilty of is exuberance, so while we to take down sites illegally sharing files, we also then direct them to sources of legal and official music, such as promotional tracks or YouTube channels."

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