Hundreds Wrongly Accused Of Illegal File-Sharing

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

More than 150 people have come forward, claiming to have been wrongly targeted in the government’s crackdown on illegal file-sharing

The consumer magazine Which? has warned that the government’s crackdown on illegal file-sharing may be targeting innocent people, after it received over 150 enquiries from people who believe they have been wrongly accused of pirating porn and music content.

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It said that “London law firm ACS:Law has already contacted thousands of people who it claims have been illegally sharing copyright material on everything from video games to German techno music,” said the magazine.

Recipients of the letters are warned that they should pay a settlement fee of between £300-£500, or face the threat of court action.

Among the accused is a 78 year-old man, accused of downloading pornography.

“My 78 year-old father yesterday received a letter from ACS Law demanding £500 for a porn file he is alleged to have downloaded,” said one complaint. “He doesn’t even know what file-sharing or BitTorrent is so has certainly not done this himself or given anyone else permission to use his computer to do such a thing.”

Another said: “I have never been in trouble for anything and I am at my wits’ end. I feel guilty even though I am not.”

Which? Computing is concerned that too many innocent people are being wrongly accused.

“Innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit. Which? is concerned that many people will be frightened into paying up rather than facing the stress of a court battle,” said Matt Bath, Technology Editor of Which?

“Over 150 people have turned to Which? for help already. We’d like to see an end to these letters being sent to innocent people and encourage copyright owners to focus their attention on those who are deliberately breaking the law.”

ACS:Law solicitors were given permission in November last year to obtain the private personal details for thousands of customers from UK ISPs. However, the law firm admitted that it was forced to drop an unknown number of cases before Christmas.

“We have been reviewing all cases which are currently open, and a good number of these cases have been dropped, where we do not either consider litigation to be a viable option or to be beneficial to our clients,” said the firm in an undated statement on its website.

“However, with all other cases, litigation remains a possibility. We have taken instructions from our clients to issue the next batch of proceedings early in the New Year, and we would urge anyone who has not settled at this stage to consider doing so before further costs are incurred,” the firm stated.

“Additionally, we are beginning to receive the new data from the ISP’s following the court orders of 19 November 2009. This means that a fresh wave of letters of claim will be ready to send early in January 2010, and we will continue to send letters of claim out at various points in 2010,” it concluded.

ACS:Law did not respond to eWEEK Europe at the time of writing.

Earlier this week it emerged that the European Commission said it would investigate the legality of software that can monitor illegal file-sharing over the Internet, which Virgin Media is expected to begin trialling soon.