Ministry of Sound abandon file sharing dragnet

BT today told the press that Ministry of Sound have abandoned their attempts to get the details of thousands of alleged filesharers under a “Norwich Pharmacal Order” (NPO).

In the fallout following the accidental leaking of sensitive data concerning thousands of UK internet users by ACS:Law, ISPs including BT woke up to the problems with simply acceding to rightsholders’ demands that they hand over alleged infringer details in bulk.

The ISPs fought back, the courts called a time out, and as a result one of the major ‘dragnet’ cases still outstanding was abandoned today.

Ministry of Sound, acting through under-fire law firm, Gallant MacMillian, decided to pull out, apparently for commercial reasons, as much of the data they need may no longer exist. This means that a court will not get to publicly poke holes in how rightsholders harvest p2p user details to generate accusations.

ORG has been calling for an end to bulk data disclosures, on grounds of data protection risk (sadly ignored in the lead up to the ACS:Law leak), but also because of industry concerns over shady evidence-gathering methods.

Understanding the ways in which evidence is collected is incredibly important, as powers lying dormant in the Digital Economy Act mean that entire households could be disconnected from the Internet on the basis of questionable accusations.

And measures to be announced in the next few weeks mean that companies like Gallant Macmillan and ACS:Law will be working out whether to use the Digital Economy Act’s bulk accusation processes, or whether to stick to their current methods.

Ofcom still intend to trust rights holders to ‘self certify’ their evidence-gathering processes, and may withhold parts of the methods under “commercial confidentiality”. Ofcom currently expects self-certification to be adequate to protect the innocent from Digital Economy Act sanctions, but as this case shows, transparency is absolutely necessary if we are to have any confidence in these procedures.

ORG welcomes the ISP’s intervention to protect users, and feels as BT did, when it said today that:

“It’s a shame though that, in this instance, our concerns over the current process will not be examined by the Court.”

ORG further notes that this latest episode renews pressure on Ofcom to demand strong and transparent standards in the various codes it is tasked with producing governing how content industries seek to enforce their copyright.