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Yorkshire cops accused of copyright theft

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Police in West Yorkshire are facing High Court accusations they illegally cribbed and sold copyright data from a commercial mobile phone forensics application.

Kent-based Forensic Telecommunications Services (FTS) is demanding up to £50,000 from the force for allegedly using material from its software, Hex. The package helps investigators examine mobile phones without a SIM card, allowing them to recover call registries and deleted texts, as well as identify SIM cards that have been used in the device.

FTS' claim, filed at the end of May, accuses West Yorkshire Police of using copyright data from Hex's manuals to develop an in-house mobile phone forensics application.

According to court documents the Hex manuals contain the "PM Abs Tables", which each effectively act as a map to useful information contained in the raw hexadecimal data recovered from a specific model of phone. FTS' claim said they were the product of "extensive research within the R&D department", and that staff had continually updated the tables to cover new models since development of Hex began in 2003.

"For the avoidance of doubt," it added, "neither the PM Abs Tables nor the data they contain are freely available in the public domain".

FTS said it released a trial version of Hex in January 2006, followed by a commercial launch in March that year.

The firm said in summer 2006 it learned the West Yorkshire force was working on its own mobile phone forensics package. It was dubbed CLiVE and, according to the claim, developed by Steven Hirst, a serving detective constable, who is named as the second defendant in FTS' claim.

The claim alleges that CLiVE contained a "tell-tale sign of copying". Errors from a Hex PM Abs table were reproduced in CLiVE's own map to the useful information contained in raw hexadecimal data, it said.

FTS said it raised its copyright concerns with West Yorkshire Police in late 2006, but that the force and Hirst went on to repeat the alleged infringement in a 2007 update to their software, dubbed OLiVE. The package was made commercially available.

"It is to be inferred that the defendants [West Yorkshire Police and Hirst] infringed the claimant's [FTS'] copyright in an attempt to secure for themselves a financial benefit," the claim alleges.

"The defendants' acts... were committed flagrantly and/or with a cynical disregard of the claimant's rights in the full knowledge that such acts were improper."

As well as damages, FTS is seeking a High Court injunction specifically banning West Yorkshire Police from any unlicensed use of the PM Abs Tables. It also wants a judge to compel the force to hand over all materials that infringe its copyright.

Contacted on Monday, FTS declined to comment on the case, saying legal proceedings were ongoing.

It now falls to West Yorkshire Police to mount a defence. A spokesman said: "Due to the ongoing nature of the action it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time." ®

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