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BT imposes conditions on ‘file sharing’ law firms

BT puts conditions on disclosing customer details
The scales of justice held up

BT has said it will not consent to disclosing customer details to ACS Law and Gallant Macmillan Solicitors (Gallant) unless their clients agree to certain conditions.

ACS Law and Gallant have previously obtained special court orders, called Norwich Pharmacal Orders (NPOs), from the High Court which force BT to disclose the names and addresses of customers that have allegedly illegally fileshared.

Up until now, BT has not opposed the granting of these NPOs, but the UK’s largest telecoms provider has said it intends to challenge all applications for the NPOs unless the rights holders can demonstrate that an alleged illegal file sharer had breached copyright law on a minimum number of separate occasions.

Have you received a letter accusing you of illegal file-sharing? Read our filesharing advice on how to respond to the accusations

In addition, BT has said it will be asking rights holders to provide evidence to show that the damages they were seeking were proportionate to the alleged offence, and, following a high profile data leak at ACS Law, that they and their law firms would handle customer data in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

BT ‘suspends bulk disclosure’

BT said it is writing to ACS Law and Gallant seeking their agreement to a revised approach to the way NPO applications are presented to court as a condition to it not opposing any future NPO applications.

‘Bulk disclosure under these orders was suspended by BT on 29 September,’ said Simon Milner, director of group industry policy at BT. ‘Any rights holder seeking future bulk disclosure of BT or Plusnet’s customers via a court order will be asked to agree to our new approach.

‘BT believes that with appropriate safeguards to protect customers’ rights, confidence in the Norwich Pharmacal process can be restored so that rights holders can feel able to use it to seek redress for online copyright infringement.

However, under UK law, BT can only ask the court to impose it’s proposed conditions as part of the application process for an NPO – it has no power to demand that the conditions are imposed. If the courts decline its request and an unconditional order for disclosure is made, BT must disclose the information or it will be in contempt of court.

Which? welcomes BT’s move

Nonetheless, Mark McLaren, Which?’s principal advocate, applauded the move. ‘This is welcome news from BT for innocent consumers accused of online file sharing. We’ve long called on internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure that the evidence presented to them by copyright owners is reliable.

‘Now we hope all other ISPs – large and small – will follow BT’s lead. If they all did, it would lead to greater clarity on the law and the type of evidence needed to substantiate these claims and we think it could put the kybosh on firms like Gallant Macmillan and ACS Law carrying out this kind of volume litigation work.

Mark was concerned, however, that there may be one key issue missing from BT’s new approach. ‘We’d also like to see no NPOs granted for any alleged infringement that occurred many months earlier,’ he explained.

‘We have seen many examples where the law firms have pursued actions based on a single alleged infringement that occurred over a year earlier. Often crucial evidence that may show someone’s innocence is lost by that stage.’

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