ISPs ordered to reveal software file-sharers

UK court rules on hunt for uploaders

Some ISPs provide users with a different IP address every time they connect, known as a 'dynamic' IP address (as opposed to a 'static' IP address). Both types of IP address can be traced to an ISP (since even dynamic addresses allocated will be within a certain range), but to ensure that suspects are caught, FAST time-stamped every IP address at the point of identification. Accordingly, ISPs need to match the customer with the IP address at a specific date and time.

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, Senior Legal Counsel at FAST, told OUT-LAW today that the ISPs have been very supportive of FAST's action. "We see the ISP as innocent in all this," he said. But he explained that the ISPs need to receive a court order to allow them to disclose customer details – otherwise they breach the Data Protection Act.

But he acknowledged that some suspects may escape capture if their ISP no longer holds the data that matches a customer to an IP address at a particular time. ISPs hold such data no longer than necessary. In some cases, that will be a year. In other cases, it will be a much shorter period, perhaps 90 days. The investigation captured data over a 12 month period.

This investigative problem should largely disappear: ISPs will be forced to keep such data for a minimum period when a controversial European Directive, approved by MEPs in December, is implemented in UK law. The UK Government will have discretion to implement the Directive with a period of anything from six months up to two years.

Heathcote Hobbins felt there was no alternative to stronger action against software pirates.

"Traditionally most software owners have relied on notice and take-down procedures and have failed to bring civil or criminal proceedings against the infringers," he said. "We expect to be bringing these actions anytime and anywhere we see software being misused."

FAST director general John Lovelock said: "We can easily take down links, but this does not tackle the root causes of software piracy, because the links will reappear elsewhere in a matter of hours. Instead, we plan to take action a lot further, making an example of the perpetrators to stop them from stealing and passing on the intellectual property of our members for good."

FAST says it will consider working with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service once the individuals have been identified.

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