Europe offers hope to alleged file-sharersAccused online file-sharers have right to be heard

06 November 2009

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The European Parliament has handed those accused of illegal file-sharing a potential lifeline that will give them the right to be heard before their connection is cut-off. 

MEPs and European Council representatives agreed users must ‘have the opportunity to state their case and defend themselves,’ before being disconnected from the web.

The compromise decision will form part of the Telecoms Reform Package due to be unveiled later this month.

Companies must prove file-sharing activity

Significantly, the agreement means it will be down to rights-holders to prove that someone has engaged in illegal file-sharing.

‘Such measures may be taken only "with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy" and as a result of "a prior, fair and impartial procedure",’ said a statement by the European Parliament.

'This appears to be at odds with the approach of some law firms, who have written to thousands of people accusing them of file-sharing. These letters demand £665 compensation and threaten legal action.'

However ACS has told us that it doesn't ignore such basic principles of justice. The company maintains it is not doing anything unlawful or improper because it says it has evidence to support its clients claims. It claims it is offering to settle cases against people who its clients think have file-shared rather than just demanding money.

Listen to one person’s experience on the Which? Technology August podcast 

'UK government must provide fair, free adjudication'

The announcement has received a cautious welcome from consumer organisations and internet service providers.

Which? campaigner Clare Corbett said: ‘The government must ensure that people who have been wrongly accused of illegal file-sharing have access to a fair, free and quick independent adjudication system and that any penalties are proportionate.’

It is down to EU member states as to how they implement the legislation. In the UK Lord Mandelson has said he will introduce tough measures against illegal file-sharers, and could in extreme cases disconnect them from the network.

Which? Computing magazine has expert advice on how to stay safe and secure online 

Earlier this year France approved its controversial Hadopi Law, under which those accused of file-sharing would receive a warning first by e-mail, then a letter, and would then have their internet connection cut off for a year if they were caught a third time.

Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation, said: ‘It has been a long hard battle but at least all sides have acknowledged that fundamental rights of users need to be guaranteed in the digital world.’

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