June 30, 2010

Civil Liberties Group Fights Against Piracy Allegations

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S. civil liberties group, will give evidence in court on Wednesday that could help stop America's largest Internet piracy hunt.

The group hopes the court throws out thousands of lawsuits against alleged illegal file-sharers.

EFF says that mass litigations deprive individuals from having fair trials.

The U.S. Copyright Group (USCG) filed lawsuits on behalf of seven filmmakers, accusing over 14,000 individuals of download films illegally, including Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker.

EFF argues that mass litigation is unfair.

"We contend that these suits improperly lump thousands of defendants together, a shortcut that deprives the defendants of fair access to individual justice," EFF said in a statement.

A federal court in Washington DC will hear EFF's arguments on Wednesday.

USCG sent letters to individuals that illegally downloaded or shared files asking them to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 in fines, or face a copyright suit of up to $150,000.

"The stakes are high for anyone identified in USCG's slipshod cases. USCG's strategy appears to be to threaten a judgment of up to $150,000 per downloaded movie - the maximum penalty allowable by law in copyright suits and a very unlikely judgment in cases arising from a single, non-commercial infringement," EFF said in a statement.

The threat "puts pressure on alleged infringers to settle quickly", it added.

EFF, along with other groups, has been concerned about the tactics being used by some law firms in order to pursue alleged file-sharers.

The methods used by law firms are not foolproof because they identify the computer that downloaded the material and not the individual.

Alleged file-sharers could be victim of Wi-Fi hijacks, where someone uses a network to pirate movies or music.

U.K. consumer watchdog Which? has taken initiative to fight for people wrongly accused.

Which? reports this week that the firm is now sending questionnaires to alleged file-sharers that deny being responsible for illegal downloading.

The survey asks users to submit their computers to a forensic examination and answer questions regarding their computers' connection to the Internet.

"We believe this is the latest example of bullying behavior by ACS Law, which says that if people don't complete its questionnaire, it has no option but to consider them guilty. Declining to fill in a form is not evidence of guilt," Deborah Prince, Which's head of legal affairs, told BBC news.

ACS: Law has said its actions are legitimate, given how big a problem illegal file sharing is for the music and film industries.

"It is the equivalent of someone stood outside HMV with a pile of the latest albums, handing them out to people who were intending to go in the shop and buy it," ACS: Law partner Andrew Crossley told the BBC.


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