December 09, 2010 | Phil

Consumer Focus claims legally naïve are being abused in an anti-consumer copyright court system

Consumer Focus has entered the debate on the proposed reform of the Patents County Court (PCC). The PCC, soon to be renamed the Intellectual Property County Court, handles most small and medium-sized non-criminal copyright infringement claims. In their response [1], they argue that a raft of pro-consumer reforms is necessary.

Consumer Focus hit out at the use of the existing system to launch inaccessible, punishing and misleadingly-led lawsuits against legally naïve Internet subscribers accused of copyright infringement through p2p filesharing. Such cases are only ever won against individuals with no lawyer, against no-shows, or after admissions of guilt or liability.

Because defending a case in the PCC or the High Court is so prohibitively expensive, internet subscribers are pressured into settling for disproportionate sums irrespective of the strength of the allegations against them. This means that unsound claims can continue to go unchallenged. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been taken from internet subscribers in this way.

Consumer Focus has been conducting an in-depth investigation into past and present UK cases involving copyright infringement through p2p filesharing, the results of which allege that:

  • in an oft-cited early High Court case, a claim by BPI members and their lawyers that an IP address conclusively identifies the individual who has infringed copyright (a claim which ORG disputes and wants answers from the BPI about [2]) went unchallenged [3],
  • copyright owners appear to not have won a single case in the UK where the internet subscriber has contested the evidence in a full hearing,
  • copyright owners make grossly inflated claims as to the size of the damages caused by the alleged infringement,
  • there is no evidence that the sums awarded were ever claimed, which could mean that most cases against internet subscribers amount to little more than example-setting, and
  • four members of the now-defunct Oink torrenting community may have been convicted of the wrong crime, possibly pleading guilty to a charge that carries a maximum imprisonment that is five times longer than the correct charge.

The Patents County Court still requires copyright infringement claims to be disputed through the very costly 'multi-track' process, which for example resulted in one accused (Isabella Barwinska) having to pay £10,000 to cover the other side's legal costs awarded against her in for sharing a pinball gam – on top of an award of thousands of pounds in damages to repair the harm done to the claimants. This comes to over half the average annual income for a person in the UK.

  1. read the full Consumer Focus consultation report
  2. ORG is still waiting for a response from the BPI on this point (see ORG's blogpost “BPI making misleading claims”)
  3. Polydor Limited and Others v Woodhouse and Others, also known as Polydor Limited and Others v Brown and Others (2005)