Leader: Is file-sharing sacking too heavy-handed?

Or is software firm making an important stand?

Or is software firm making an important stand?

The sacking of an IT consultant after he appeared on BBC 2's Newsnight TV programme, to comment on the US Supreme Court file-sharing ruling against Grokster last week, raises some interesting issues.

Alex Hanff had been in his new job for a software house in Lancaster for a week when Newsnight asked him to appear as a 'talking head'.

He was invited because he had been served legal papers earlier this year by Hollywood film body the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), accusing his DVD-Core website of being a BitTorrent hub that encouraged and facilitated illegal file-sharing of movies.

Hanff claims his employers knew he was going to appear on the programme and even gave him permission to leave early to film his slot - but it all went pear-shaped when they heard his anti-copyright views and he was sacked the following day.

Tribal Group, the parent company of the organisation he worked for, claims Hanff failed to disclose he was in the midst of an MPAA suit during his application and interview process. It also says his views on intellectual property and copyright are incompatible with their line of business as a software company.

It's a fair argument but there are problems with it. Hanff hasn't actually been found guilty in a court of law of doing anything wrong and there are question marks around whether the MPAA has any jurisdiction in the UK. Also, Hanff's comments on Newsnight were less about endorsing illegal file-sharing and more about the often heavy-handed and draconian methods used by the record and movie industry bodies in chasing down alleged copyright infringers.

Then again one has to question Hanff's wisdom in not declaring the pending file-sharing suit to his new employers and then promptly drawing attention to it by appearing on a national news programme in front of millions of viewers.

His probationary status means it will be an uphill battle to appeal against the dismissal but he's already claiming it is a breach of the Human Rights Act.

Regardless of the outcome, the situation highlights the difficulties which arise when an employee's personal activities present a conflict of opinion with their employer. We have already seen this with employee blogs and the heavy-handed way in which bookseller Waterstones dealt with a staff member who called his boss "evil" on a personal website.

However in this case we seem to have a combination of naivety on the part of Hanff and a legally dubious knee-jerk reaction from his employer - rather than any principled stand on intellectual property.