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Court slaps UK BitTorrenters with landmark damages award

Copyright ambulance chasers open up new market

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The Central London County Court has ordered four BitTorrent users to pay a video games company £750 interim damages following a landmark victory by no win, no fee copyright lawyers.

The final damages could run to £2,000, plus costs of up to £1,500, the Evening Standard reports.

The decision will cause salivating among intellectual property lawyers at Davenport Lyons, the London firm that brought the case on behalf of games producer Topware Interactive. It's thought its campaign is targeting at least 500 individuals. Davenport Lyons reportedly said it intends to bring more cases this week. The firm's representatives were not immediately available for comment.

None of the four filesharers were represented in court last week to contest the accusation that they had illegally shared the game Dream Pinball 3D. The no-show meant the court was forced to find in favour of the plaintiff.

It's the first time one of the firm's antipiracy campaigns has come to court. The level of damages indicates UK judges are sympathetic to the view that copyright infringment via peer to peer networks can cause greater damage to rights holders than the retail cost of their product, because the number of times it has been shared by an individual is unknown. Dream Pinball 3D costs £8.99 on Amazon.

Davenport Lyons has pioneered a new market in tracking filesharers online and then contacting rights holders to suggest they sue. The firm is also pursuing hundreds of alleged illegal downloaders of Colin McRae DiRT after persuading Codemasters to take up the sabre.

The evidence of infringement Davenport Lyons presents to rights holders is similar to that being collected by the BPI on behalf of the UK record industry [user agent, timestamp, file name, IP address]. Davenport Lyons does not then pass the information to ISPs in the hope they will ask subscibers to stop illegally downloading copyright material, however.

Instead, it obtains a court order demanding ISPs hand over their subscribers' personal details, which it then uses to approach individual filesharers directly. Sheffield broadband provider PlusNet received a court order for its customers' details last year, and wrote about the incident here.

Davenport Lyons' nastygrams to its targets threaten criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit if they do not pay hundreds of pounds within 14 days.

The witchfinding BitTorrent-tracking programme is outsourced to Swiss firm Logistep, which promises its findings are "fully accurate". Because the four defendants did not show up to the High Court, the veracity of the evidence went unchallenged this time.

It's a great business for lawyers to be in, as the process is at least part automated: some of the net users accused of infringing Codermasters' copyright last year received more than half a dozen separate demands for cash. Davenport Lyons later told The Register that it only wanted its targets to pay up on one of the charges its system had fired at them.

It looks like the filesharing nastygram could be a nice little earner for Davenport Lyons for some time, especially if it manages to keep turning up people who can't or won't defend themselves. ®

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