Oliver Shultz 28 March 2012, 01:29

UK ISP forced to identify users suspected of downloading porn [Update]

UK ISP forced to identify users suspected of downloading porn [Update]

While Egypt is preparing to impose a nationwide ban on internet pornography, access to such spicy material remains very much alive and well in many other parts of the world, including in the United Kingdom, where some web users have apparently been very, very bad boys and girls, by downloading such content illegally.

The Telegraph reports that a High Court judge today ordered internet service provider O2 Broadband, part of the Telefónica empire, to provide personal details of over 9,000 of its customers to Ben Dover Productions and Golden Eye International, which are jointly pursuing claims of copyright infringement against users who they believe have unlawfully obtained their content. O2 had previously contested the petition to identify its customers, but the High Court ruling means that it must now deliver customer details for 9,124 IP addresses, identified by Ben Dover Productions as having illegally downloaded its content.

Generic Porn Image #5387. Ooh.
Generic Porn Image #5387. Ooh.

Ben Dover was one of thirteen porn production companies to have submitted similar applications in conjunction with Golden Eye International. The other twelve firms found their petitions rejected because, in the words of the judge, Mr Justice Arnold, “the claimants’ interests in enforcing their copyrights outweigh the intended defendants’ interest in protecting their privacy and data protection rights.”

Consumer Focus – a consumer interest group permitted to participate in lieu of the then-unidentified customers – viewed the judge’s decision to observe these privacy considerations as an “important precedent” in ensuring that firms claiming copyright infringement are properly challenged to present an appropriate level of evidence to support their claims. The group’s chief executive, Mike O’Connor, explained that the decision in this regard was a boost “for the rights of consumers, particularly those who are innocent”. He added that “it is very welcome that the court has recognised the bill-payer should not be automatically assumed to be guilty when a copyright owner believes they have detected copyright infringement on that connection.”

The fundamental problem remains of establishing guilt based solely on an IP address. Being associated with an IP address that has been observed engaging in unlawful activity may imply guilt, but in practice, it only proves that the IP address itself has been used for that activity; it does not prove that the IP address ‘owner’ directly engaged in – or even had knowledge of – that activity.

The judge also denounced as “unsupportable” the intentions of Golden Eye and Ben Dover to demand £700 GBP ($1100 USD / €840 EUR) from each customer identified by O2, particularly as the firms planned to send intimidating letters to customers, threatening court action if they failed to pay up. The companies will nonetheless continue to pursue claims of copyright infringement, by unspecified means, against those customers identified by O2.

Update: BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat claims that the judicial rejection of twelve of the thirteen companies «means the final number of O2 customers whose details are likely to be handed over is likely to be significantly fewer than the original 9,124 figure». This appears to contradict the interpretation of events in The Telegraph's article, which states that «the High Court ordered O2 to hand over the personal details of more than 9,000 O2 broadband subscribers». For now, the exact number of customers whose details will be surrendered to Ben Dover Productions and Golden Eye International remains unclear.
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