Ministry of Sound suspends filesharing action
Record label drops plan to send warning notices to more than 25,000 BT broadband customers after ISP deletes their details
Ministry of Sound is suspending plans to send warning notices to more than 25,000 BT broadband customers suspected of illegal downloading, claiming that the internet service provider has deleted their details.
BT had agreed to retain the personal details of 20,000 of its customers earlier this year, so that Ministry of Sound could pursue them once an injunction on the court order was lifted. However, the record label today said that BT had “failed to preserve” the details.
The telecoms company was granted an injunction on the original court order, submitted by law firm Gallant Macmillan on behalf of Ministry of Sound, on 4 October. The broadband provider argued that it would continue to challenge such orders – known as “Norwich Pharmacal orders” – until the rights holder and law firm can prove that accusations of illegal filesharing have “some basis”.
Ministry of Sound claims that Gallant Macmillan, and the technology company DigiRights Solutions had identified more than 150,000 UK IP addresses sharing the label’s copyrighted content.
The Ministry of Sound chief executive, Lohan Presencer, said: “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.”
A BT spokesman responded: “We’re surprised at this claim since we provided a similar number of customer details to comply with a court order earlier this year for Ministry of Sound and there was no suggestion then that this was a problem for them.
“All such information is automatically deleted from our systems after 90 days in accordance with our data retention policy; the Ministry of Sound and its solicitors are well aware of this. Upon request from Ministry of Sound we saved as much of the specific data sought as we reasonably could and any not preserved must have been too old. Our door remains open to Ministry of Sound and any other rights holder who wants to enforce their rights in a fair way through an established legal process.”
The spokesman added that BT would now write to law firms ACS:Law and Gallant Macmillan seeking their agreement to a revised approach to granted court orders. He said that any rights holder seeking future disclosure of customer details through court orders would have to agree to this approach.
“Ministry of Sound’s decision is clearly a matter for them. It’s a shame though that, in this instance, our concerns over the current process will not be examined by the court,” the spokesman added.
“However, it remains our intention to ensure our broadband customers are adequately protected so that rights holders can pursue their claims for copyright infringement without causing unnecessary worry to innocent people.
“BT believes that with appropriate safeguards to protect customers’ rights, confidence in the Norwich Pharmacal process can be restored so that rights holders can feel able to use it to seek redress for online copyright infringement.
“The safeguards we aim to establish via the court are on the security of data handling, a threshold for providing a customer’s details based on a minimum number of separate incidents, the tone of contact with broadband subscribers and a reasonable approach to financial compensation sought.”
The process of identifying and pursuing internet users suspected of illegal filesharing was called into question earlier this year following the online leak of personal details of thousands of UK broadband users from ACS:Law.
ACS:Law attracted the ire of online activists for its method of tracking and pursuing those it suspects of sharing copyrighted material. Hundreds of internet users ordered to pay a fine by the company complained that they had been wrongly identified and are now looking to form a class action lawsuit against the firm.
The law firm’s website was targeted with a coordinated attack in September, knocking it temporarily offline. But the information it held about thousands of internet users was uploaded online in the aftermath of the attack. The information commissioner is now investigating the data breach.
If it is determined that the exposure was the result of ACS:Law’s own data security shortcomings, rather than the fault of external hackers, the information commissioner could levy a £500,000 fine on the law firm.
Solicitors acting on behalf of rights holders gain the contact details of broadband customers they suspect of sharing copyrighted content by applying for a court order against the relevant ISP. Most, if not all, of the ISPs subjected to these orders have now said they will contest them until the security of customer data is assured.