Scales of justiceClara Molden/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A court ruling has meant that the personal details of 9,000 02 broadband customers will have to be handed over to a film-maker who claims that they have been downloading his pornographic films.

So what details will be revealed, and what does this mean for your own internet privacy?

The case

The case was brought by Ben Dover - real name Lindsay Honey - the performer, director and producer behind Golden Eye International. He explained that he had employed tracking software to identify where his films were distributed by file sharing, and revealed just over 9,000 suspected ISP addresses. He was demanding names and addresses of each of those he suspected of file sharing, and intended to contact them all and demand a payment for damages caused by infringement of copyright.

He brought 13 applications - through 13 different porn firms. Twelve of them were rejected, but the one from Ben Dover Productions was upheld, as the judge concluded that Goldeneye had copyright of the film in question, so O2 will have to hand over details.


Why details were given

This takes advantage of part of the law which protects the personal details of people online, unless there is a reasonable expectation they have been involved in wrong-doing, and that those harmed by the wrongdoing intend to seek redress from them.

The judge said: "Golden Eye and Ben Dover Productions have a good arguable case that many of the relevant Intended Defendants have infringed their copyrights. I am satisfied that they do intend to seek redress for those wrongs and that disclosure is necessary to enable them to do so.

"In these circumstances, I conclude that the Claimants' interests in enforcing their copyrights outweigh the Intended Defendants' interest in protecting their privacy and data protection rights, and thus it is proportionate to order disclosure."

In other words, the fact that there's a good chance they have broken the law is more important than their privacy.

Protection

The use Linsday Honey can make of these details is going to be severely limited. He planned to send a letter to these customers and insist on being paid £700 by everyone who downloaded his work, threatening legal consequences if they failed to pay.

The judge concluded, however, that this was unfair for a number of reasons - that the tracking company could not conclude who had downloaded the film (only who owned the connection), they couldn't conclude how much sharing had been done by each (and therefore how much damage was done), they couldn't justify the £700 sum, and they couldn't threaten expensive legal action to those who didn't pay (as there was no proof the pornographer would win any further damages).

He will be able to contact those accused of file sharing, but the court will oversee the drafting of the letter to ensure it isn't unduly threatening, and doesn't leave people with the impression their downloading will be made public, doesn't say that the court has made any judgment about their guilt, or that they will have to pay more than the damages sought if the case was eventually to reach court.

This has been hailed by Consumer Focus (involved in the case on the side of O2) as a step forward in protecting consumers from 'speculative invoicing' by requiring more proof from those sending out letters rather than assuming the guilt of the person paying the bill.

Of course, this won't help the teenagers who have been file-sharing on their parent's computers. Their household is going to be understandably shaken by the arrival of this particular letter.

What about you?

But what does it mean for other internet users? Are your details up for grabs now?

The issue in question is the wrongdoing. These details have been made available because they are suspected of copyright infringement. If you are using your internet connection for legal activities, you have nothing to fear. If you are breaking the law, then there's a reason why there's an exception in privacy laws to enable companies to pursue you for the damage you have caused in the process.



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