Two law firms have been sending out letters  claiming that the recipients have illegally made available, on filesharing networks, certain computer games, music and even pornographic films. An estimated 25,000+ letters have been sent  with many more sure to follow. Many agencies who can help may have received one or two letters from, or had meetings with, worried recipients. They will have seen documents directed at individuals but may have scant information on the scale of the operation. A brief outline of the affair follows.
Letters were first sent in early 2007  and typically threaten the recipients that, if they do not pay a sum of money (in the region of £500-£600), they may be taken to court. In fact, not one case has been contested by both sides in a court of law, only a few default judgements have been awarded because the accused did not defend . The big problem with this is that a significant proportion of the recipients never downloaded the works, and in some cases were not aware of the technology they are accused of using. Even pensioners have been targeted .
It is important to highlight the considerable hurt inflicted on those that are innocent and get caught up in this scheme. No one should have to cope with the stress of anticipation for the 6 years set out in the statute of limitations. Having a potential lawsuit over your head for this time, especially one regarding pornography, is understandably causing many people a lot of stress. Should you be in any doubt to the impact, several people have written about their personal experiences, including several cases of anxiety and insomnia that have resulted from these letters.
Profits from fear
According to one of the law firms, 15% to 40% of letter recipients pay up . That amounts to millions of pounds. It is estimated that 10% of the money goes to the publishers. The remainder goes to the for-profit 'data monitoring' companies and the solicitors. Millions for the cost of a mailshot; it is only a matter of time before other opportunists jump on this particularly profitable bandwagon .
In early June 2009, thousands of new letters were sent out accusing people of making available graphic pornography titles such as 'Army F***ers', 'Russian Teen Obsession' and 'Bareback Sailor Pimps'. While this dragnet undoubtedly brings up some who are guilty of filesharing, there are also lots of innocent people who pay: people who are intimidated by the threat of legal action, people who are too scared to talk about hardcore gay or 'barely legal' pornography with their spouse, and people who just want it to go away and pay up even if the accusation is entirely unfounded. Despite a complaint having been filed with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) by the consumer magazine Which? in 2008 , the bullying letters continue unabated.
Data is provided by two private monitoring companies: Digiprotect and Logistep based, respectively, in Germany and Switzerland. They harvest IP addresses (unique internet addresses which identify a connection) from filesharing networks. The solicitors, instructed by the game, music and movie publishing companies, then use a Norwich Pharmacal order (NPO)  to get subscriber data for the IP addresses from the internet service providers (ISPs).
Many people are able to see the likely evidential flaws in the methods. However, there is frustration that, in the absence of a contested case, the only evidence released is simply a list of dates, times, and IP addresses and therefore people are unable to seek expert advice or address the evidence of claims alleged. There is clearly potential for misidentification of individuals between the IP address and the data kept by the ISP. This is in addition to spoofing concerns and general doubts in the whole chain of custody. Indeed, the ISPs Association has admitted that ISPs aren't convinced that the right people are identified.
It should also be noted that an IP address can only be traced to a connection and there is no guarantee that the account holder was responsible. In June 2009, a court in Italy ruled that an IP address can only identify a connection, but not an infringer . Indeed, due to the poor default security found on wireless routers, it is entirely possible that a neighbour, or a malicious third party is responsible for the infringing act . There is no precedent in UK law for the account holder being held liable for unauthorised use of their connection .