from www.pcpro.co.uk – A digital rights company has won a partial victory that could see O2 forced to reveal the details of subscribers accused of copyright infringement.
A High Court in London ruled that Golden Eye International and adult entertainment company Ben Dover could proceed with a so-called “Norwich Pharmacal Order”, seeking the IP addresses of more than 9,000 O2 broadband customers they believe have downloaded copyright material.
However, the judge in charge of the case laid down guidelines on how the companies could pursue the case in a bid to prevent the legal action from mirroring the widely discredited practice of speculative invoicing, where copyright owners demand payment to avoid court action.
The judge also turned down the option for 12 other companies to proceed with action against end users.
According to Justice Arnold, the letters sent to end users must make clear that the download logs don’t necessarily prove their guilt. The judge said a subsequent case would agree the content of the letters sent out to the people accused of IP theft.
“Following four years of speculative invoicing, this case sets an important precedent for the rights of consumers, particularly those who are innocent, and the responsibilities of companies seeking redress on behalf of copyright owners,” said Mike O’Connor, CEO of Consumer Focus, which was acting on behalf of consumers at the request of the judge.
O’Connor said the fact the judge stressed ISP customers should not be assumed as being guilty just because their connection had been used could prove significant.
The court heard that Golden Eye had previously intended to write to 9,124 O2 customers demanding £700 in damages, and that the letters wrongly asserted that bill-payers are liable for any copyright infringement that may have occurred on their internet connection – whether they committed the infringement or not.
“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 internet connection,” he said.
“Consumers should not be subject to the type of threatening letters Golden Eye intended to send to more than 9,000 O2 customers.”
According to Consumer Focus, the ruling meant it would be more difficult for companies such as ACS Law to send threatening letters demanding payment without any proof of wrongdoing.
An O2 spokesperson said: “Clearly we respect the Court order and will therefore be co-operating fully.”