ISPs have been ordered to divulge the identities of 150 people accused of the unauthorised sharing of software via the Internet.
Ten ISPs received a High Court order on Monday instructing them to hand over details of the alleged unauthorised file-sharers to the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), a pressure group that represents the software industry.
The ISPs have two weeks to divulge full personal details of the customers involved, including their names, addresses and dates of birth.
Judge Raynor confirmed that there was "an overwhelming case" for ordering such customer details to be released. ISPs cannot release such customer details without a court order, as this would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.
An undercover investigator working for FAST identified the alleged unauthorised file-sharers. The investigator, an IT forensics expert, covertly worked on a FAST project codenamed Operation Tracker. FAST refused to reveal his identity to ZDNet UK, but said he also works with Special Branch and the government.
The main ISPs involved are BT, Telewest, Tiscali, and NTL, according to John Lovelock, FAST's director-general. All have agreed to provide customer information to FAST, which claims to be working closely with police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The unauthorised file-sharers were detected by "simply searching to see if the software was available on file-sharing networks," said Lovelock. The software was not offered for sale, but instead offered to share.
"We don't think it was being shared for profit," said Lovelock.
The alleged file-sharers used peer-to-peer networks which reached into universities and onto corporate networks. FAST claimed that businesses were "complacent" about unauthorised file sharing and software use.
"Most corporates [sic] are blasé or complacent about what goes on on their networks as long as it doesn't affect business," said Lovelock.
FAST would not say which software was being distributed, saying that it was a "mixture".
"I can tell you that it came from one major multinational in particular [whose software was being shared], and that we don't represent Microsoft," said Lovelock.
FAST started gathering evidence 12 months ago, and investigations are still ongoing.
Lovelock indicated that FAST would be targeting businesses next.
"We are working on phase two of the investigation now, and we're going up the food chain. We have encountered complacency from directors of business before — sometimes they hang up when we call."
"FAST encourage businesses to do an electronic audit of the software on their systems. Our question to people running businesses is — have you got control of your enterprise systems? The answer is probably 'no'," claimed Lovelock.