BT is to launch a legal test case to see whether it is obliged to give rights holders and their law firms details of customers who are suspected of unlawfully sharing files online.
The communications firm said on Tuesday that it had successfully sought an adjournment of a court case brought by Ministry of Sound against PlusNet, an ISP owned by BT. That case had resulted in a court order — of a type known as a Norwich Pharmacal order — forcing PlusNet to hand over details of its customers to the music company's lawyers, Gallant MacMillan.
BT and PlusNet's petition for an adjournment follows a series of cyberattacks over the last few weeks made by the online anarchist collective Anonymous, ostensibly in reaction to attacks made on file-sharing sites. Anonymous's distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which appear to be ongoing, have targeted numerous organisations and firms involved in the fight against online copyright infringement.
One such organisation was ACS:Law, a legal firm that is being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for sending letters to thousands of suspected unlawful file-sharers and asking for money in exchange for the recipients not being taken to court. Anonymous brought down ACS:Law's web servers and, when the firm was trying to bring its website back online, it inadvertently exposed to the public a folder containing its email backups.
Members of Anonymous leapt on the backups and distributed them online, revealing the names and personal details of many people accused of sharing copyrighted pornography and other media online without authorisation. Not only were many of them PlusNet customers, but BT also subsequently admitted that it had sent customer details to ACS:Law in an unencrypted format.
"The incident involving the ACS:Law data leak has further damaged people's confidence in the current process," PlusNet said in a statement. "We're pleased that the court has agreed to an adjournment so that our concerns can be examined by the court; this will then act as a precedent/test case for the future."
PlusNet said it wanted to ensure that its broadband subscribers were "adequately protected so that rights holders can pursue their claims for copyright infringement without causing unnecessary worry to innocent people". It also claimed to have "not simply consented to these orders in the past [but] asked for stricter terms as public concern has risen".
ZDNet UK has asked BT what this means in practice, but the company replied that it could not discuss that meaning because it was "going into our evidence to go before the court at the next hearing".
According to the statement, PlusNet is also seeking a moratorium on outstanding applications and orders, of the type made by Ministry of Sound and its lawyers.
At the time of writing, the websites of Ministry of Sound and Gallant MacMillan were down, and neither company was available to comment on the case. Although it cannot be confirmed that Anonymous is responsible for this website downtime, someone purporting to be from the collective told the security company PandaLabs in an interview on 29 September that its attacks would continue until it was no longer "angry" with the pro-copyright lobby.