Following recent comments by a government official suggesting that legislation may be needed to force internet service providers into a crackdown on unauthorised file-sharing, the Federation Against Software Theft contacted ZDNet.co.uk to put its case across.
In an interview on Monday — based largely on readers' submitted questions — Fast chief John Lovelock denied that he wanted to target small-time file-sharers of copyrighted material, but insisted that it should be possible to ban serious offenders from any internet usage without having to go through the courts.
Q: What is Fast's reaction to Lord Triesman's comments?
A: Before Lord Triesman got involved with it, there was Andrew Gowers. In his recommendations last year [he called for] an industry agreement on protocols regarding sharing data between ISPs [internet service providers] and rights holders. He said that, if this had not proved successful by the end of 2007, then the government should be prepared to legislate.
We've run a couple of operations where we've gone out to the P2P file-share networks, looking for our members' software being made available. In the first operation we found about 135 people making our members' software available to share for free. From there we had to go to court and get a court order because they were individuals. Obviously the court had to be satisfied that we had evidence to prove the full file was available. We had to download screen-grabs and use an atomic clock to demonstrate the time of day, so we could go to the ISP with the IP address, so they could search their logs and tell us it was "Joe Soap".
Then we wrote to these people saying: "You've been found guilty" — sorry — "Evidence has been found of you file-sharing software which you don't have the right to do in terms of the licence agreement. So we'd like you to pay up for the software, contribute to the costs and say you won't do it again." Some [agreed], some didn't — so we gave them another opportunity to do so. Eventually we took one person to court and got a summary judgement. They just didn't turn up [in court], so they were found guilty in absentia and the judge awarded us £3,500.
To go to so much trouble, go through the courts and get a court order against the ISPs to give information on people performing illegal activities is an awfully long-winded, archaic and very expensive way of protecting people's intellectual property. So what Gowers said is that the ISPs should work closer with the rights holders to make a simpler methodology to track down people using the networks for illegal activity and either bargain or give details to agencies and stop them doing it.
As one of our readers pointed out, copyright infringement is a civil issue rather than criminal — surely you should have to go through the courts?
If we want to take action against individuals, you are right. But we would prefer to collaborate with ISPs. I think where it can be demonstrated to the ISPs that there is evidence which would be admissible in a court of law, but [rights holders' representatives] are happy to provide it to you as a service provider to demonstrate that Joe Soap is using your network for illegal activity, we would ask you to ban him from using your internet connections.
If there's evidence of that person then joining another ISP and then taking up again, we would go to that ISP and say: "Here's the evidence and we don't think they should be allowed to use your network."
Are you arguing that Fast should be legislated to have a right to ban?
Not us at all. We would provide the same evidence we'd have to provide the courts. We would provide that evidence through bona fide forensics experts who would normally stand up in court. That evidence would be provided to the ISP's legal department. If it were child pornography, there would be no question at all about that person being barred…
But you are now talking about a criminal activity.
We wouldn't be taking legal action. All we'd be doing is providing evidence to the service provider that people are providing illegal activity, the same as with a car boot sale where Trading Standards might go to the organisers [to make them aware of illegal goods being sold there].
Is it actually practicable to ban someone from using the internet?
I don't know. That's a proposal or thought that I'm sure can be built on, like anything you brainstorm. The whole of...