The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has won a landmark legal victor against two British citizens who distributed music over the Internet using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, it announced on Friday.
This is the first time unauthorised file-sharers have been successfully prosecuted in the UK, according to legal experts.
One of the defendants, a man from King's Lynn, argued that the BPI had no direct evidence of copyright infringement. His defence was rejected by the High Court, and summary judgment was granted to the BPI without the need for a trial.
The defendant was ordered to make an immediate payment of £5,000. Total costs are estimated at £13,500, and damages are expected to take the bill even higher, BPI said in a statement.
The second defendant, a man from Brighton, claimed that he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal and added that he had not sought financial gain.
But Judge Justice Lawrence Collins declared that "ignorance is not a defence." The defendant was ordered to make an immediate payment of £1,500, pending final determination of costs and damages, according to BPI.
"We have been very patient litigators," said BPI general council Roz Groome. "We have given these people every opportunity to settle. Only when they refused to settle did we take them to court, which has now found in our favour. These rulings are a massive step forward in the music industry's bid to fight illegal file-sharing."
It is thought that the BPI looked for the IP addresses of Web users who had uploaded digital music files to the Internet. It then contacted their ISPs and forced them to reveal the identity of the customers involved.
The BPI, if it finds evidence of unauthorised file sharing, can apply for a court order to request that ISPs give details of the suspect IP addresses, explained Struan Robertson, senior associate at legal firm Pinsent Masons.
"This sends a strong message that unauthorised file sharing will be punished. It has been crystal clear for a while that copyright infringement is illegal, but this is a symbolic case," Robertson told ZDNet UK.
The BPI has been criticised in the past for suing unauthorised file sharers, but Robertson believes that it will bring as many cases as it feels it has to. "The BPI didn't want to sue its customers, but it will do to stop them stealing music," said Robertson.
The BPI is currently seeking settlements in a further 51 cases launched last December. Those involved have until 31 January to settle their cases and avoid court action, said the BPI.