House of Lords: Record Companies have been harassing innocent users
Update: you can now sign our letter to Mandelson – if you want to let know what you think of the bill please leave your comment and we’ll get it printed nice and big.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Lucas took aim at ACS:Law solicitors, a firm that has been used by record companies in Britain to intimidate file-sharers, and that has apparently cause an enormous number of complaints to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Of particular interest is this extract:
If people fall foul of this Bill, they will have a couple of warning letters, but after that they will get a typical ACS:Law Solicitors standard letter saying, “Pay us £500 or we will take you to court”. If they do not pay the £500, they will end up in court, there will be technical evidence against them, and they will have no ability to provide a technical defence. That is the difficulty that people faced with ACS:Law Solicitors have at the moment. There is this inequality of arms. They are in a civil court, with a 50:50 balance-of-probability judgment, and must contemplate risking thousands of pounds in mounting a defence when it is not easy to do that.
This is a recognition of one of the fundamental problems with a bill like the DEB: the consumer-grade networking equipment that is currently available and that has been being given out by ISPs in the past few years does not allow users to defend themselves.
Say, for example, that you get a letter accusing you of violating copyright and demanding that you stop. You know that you haven’t been, and you think that it was probably the tech-savvy kid from next-door breaking into your wireless. What can you do? On most consumer-grade equipment: nothing. The wireless routers that have been distributed by ISPs do not support strong enough encryption to keep him out, nor do they keep detailed enough logs to vindicate yourself. To put it simply: once the accusation has been made you cannot escape it, since the tools are not available to you to prove your innocence.
The result of this is, as Lord Lucas points out, that the record companies can accuse absolutely anyone they feel like, and the person will have no choice but to pay the fine they demand – it is legally sanctioned blackmail:
In a civil procedure on a technical matter, it amounts to blackmail; the cost of defending one of these things is reckoned to be £10,000. You can get away with asking for £500 or £1,000 and be paid on most occasions without any effort having to be made to really establish guilt. It is straightforward legal blackmail.