Hundreds of Brits are being forced to fork out £500 after wrongfully being accused of illegally downloading music and pornography files.
Hundreds of Brits are being forced to fork out £500 after wrongfully being accused of illegally downloading digital audio and pornography files.
The letters claim the recipient has illegally shared files and is subsequently required to pay a £500 fine and sign a legal undertaking agreeing not to illegally file-share in the future.
They also detail the date and time the offence occurred along with the file name.
Which? said that rights holders are identifying IP addresses that are illegally file-sharing and then getting courts to order ISPs to hand over the account identities for the IP addresses.
They are then commissioning legal firms to produce and issue the letters.
The letters, some of which are 30 pages long, are being issued even though the Digital Economy Bill, which sets out measures by the government to tackle internet piracy, has not come into force in the UK yet.
The measures suggest a 'three strikes' rule under which potential offenders will receive warning letters and emails designed to educate them on their wrong-doing. Should they continue to offend, web users will then face disconnection from the web.
However, the letters that have been received so far appear to be less about educating web users and more about issuing a penalty.
They certainly don't offer any information or advice on what consumers should do if they were not the one using the connection to illegally download.
Which? was highlighting the issue at the 'Principles and Practicalities of Copyright' event, hosted by TalkTalk in a bid to educate MPs and peers about the damaging effect of the Digital Economy Bill on human and consumer rights.
According to Matthew Bath from Which? many recipients are choosing to pay the fine rather than fight them in court because they're unsure of how to prove they are innocent.
Others, meanwhile, are concerned that fighting the accusation could affect other areas of their lives such as their employment or even their marriages, in the case of those accused of downloading pornography.
Which? is urging the government to implement a process that will stop law firms issuing these letters and also consider creating a place that Brits can turn to for advice and help in fighting the accusations as well to discover whether they did actually infringe copyright law.
Bath said education was a key factor in tackling internet piracy.
According to Which? a number of consumers issued with letters have turned towards the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) for help. However, the CAB has been unable to offer advice, leaving consumers out in the cold.
We contacted ACS Law for a comment and currently awaiting their response omn the file-sharing fine letters.
TalkTalk has been campaigning for some time against the proposals laid out the Digital Economy Bill.
The ISP is concerned many Brits will find themselves disconnected from the web because their Wi-Fi connection has been hijacked by cybercriminals.
According to chief executive Charles Dunstone, web users that develop tools which can be used to access content illegally are often not motivated by money. Instead they are irritated by digital rights management (DRM) restrictions placed on content by labels and studios.
"Most fans grudgingly put up with it but some are smart enough to develop applications which allow content to be copied from one format or device to another," he said.
"If the Digital Economy Bill becomes law, more tools will emerge and they will be simple enough for anyone to use," he added.
Copyright 2009 IDG Magazines Norge AS. All rights reserved
Postboks 9090 Grønland - 0133 OSLO / Telefon 22053000
Ansvarlig redaktør Henning Meese / Utviklingsansvarlig Ulf Helland / Salgsdirektør Tore Harald Pettersen