Many Innocent Users Sent Pre-Settlement Letters Demanding Payment For Infringement

from the borderline-extortion dept

We’ve already discussed how operations like DigiProtect and ACS:Law are operating a rather questionable business of purposely putting content online, tracking the IP addresses of anyone who downloads that content, and then sending letters demanding payment to avoid a lawsuit. While it’s not clear if any of these lawsuits are ever filed, many people are frightened into just paying up, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. And, in fact, it appears that many innocent users are receiving these letters, in such a blanket campaign. While some may call it “collateral damage” if a small percentage of innocent people receive these letters, it’s still quite problematic, and a highly questionable business practice.

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Companies: acs:law

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Comments on “Many Innocent Users Sent Pre-Settlement Letters Demanding Payment For Infringement”

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The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Paul, I think that there is more to this story, which would greatly change things.

Example: for the 78 year old that got the letter, how does he access the internet? Does he use a wireless and a laptop? If he uses a desktop instead, has he ever had anyone stay over at his home? Perhaps a child or even a grandchild used his computer to download stuff? Is his computer connection perhaps shared with other flatmates, or similar?

It is easy for people to say “I didn’t do it” or use the good old SODDI (the online version of “two black youths”). I suspect in most of the cases, people are either embarrassed to admit what they downloaded, or have permitted access to their internet connection through wireless or other means.

Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if less than honest people in the world are infecting computers with hidden P2P programs that forward the results on to other locations, sort of as a hacker’s personal distributed VPN. But in the end, people are responsible for what happens on their internet connection.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah, the siren call of the corporate shill. “I don’t agree with the conculsion, he must be lying!”

There’s plenty of stories out there of innocent people being sued, from people who can’t run the software (like a Mac user who was accused of sharing files with the Windows-only Kazaa) to those who don’t even own a computer. Researchers managed to get a cease and desist letter for an IP assigned to a laser printer.

But, all those people are lying, right? If they’re accused, they must be guilty because nobody innocent ever gets accused! This is why people think you’re an idiot. Occasionally, you stumble across an actual valid point, but at times like this you reveal yourself as a mere contrarian fool.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Paul, it’s all nice, but example, that Mac User may have had their wireless active and allowed pass thru access to their internet connection. SOD connects to their Mac using a PC, and ta da, infringement that appears to come from an Apple computer.

There are plenty of ways that these things are possible.

Are they 100%? NOPE. Nothing is 100%. I am sure some errors are made. That is why they have this thing called court. I am just saying that some of the people who are crying the loudest about being innocent either know they are in fact guilty and don’t like getting caught, or have security holes in their internet access that can make them unaware of infringement happening on their connection.

Wardriving. Old fashioned, but a very effective way to get internet connectivity for free.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Are they 100%? NOPE. Nothing is 100%. I am sure some errors are made. That is why they have this thing called court.”

and that is why the extortionists have never taken a case to court.

Their business model is to scare people into paying up (and many innocent but gullible people will) and to quietly drop anyone who fights back.

:) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“That is why we have courts”

Agreed and when the industry screws up they should pay the cost for the trouble they caused or else is just one sided.

They have to pay for their mistakes or else how would they learn.

They are stealing money from innocent people, tarnishing their image and reputation with such accusations and expect not to pay for it?

Ludicrous, they have to pay if they are proven wrong so as to serve as deterrence in the future for further mistakes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Once again, you refuse to address the major point and assume that if a person is accused, they must be guilty in some way. What about the person who was sued despite not owning a computer? Are you saying that wardriving was involved there somehow? What about the researchers who managed to get a laser printer identified as the infringing device? That case proved that the RIAA are shockingly easy to fool – are you OK with being fined and having your internet connection removed because a “pirate” chose your IP address to spoof, because I’m sure as hell not.

Bottom line: the RIAA’s evidence is flimsy and easily fooled. I personally demand a higher standard of evidence before they get the right to cut off peoples’ internet connections and fine them thousands of dollars.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 DHCP

To add another element to the mix: DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). Most ISPs use DHCP to connect to user accounts. DHCP assigns an IP address automatically from a pool of addresses whenever someone logs on. Whenever that user logs off or his lease on that address expires, that address is returned to the pool to be reassigned to another user logging on. When that first user logs on again, he will almost certainly be assigned a different address from the time before, and someone else will be using his previous address. Thus the only way a particular IP address could be linked to a particular user is if the investigator logging that address has an accurate record of the exact time that address was in use and the ISP has an accurate record of who was using what address at exactly what time, or if that user has a fixed IP address. If either is off by even a minute there can be no certainty of who was using what address at what time.

I suspect some if not all of the RIAA investigators are just plain sloppy in their work, grab the first IP address they see and either don’t log the time accurately (or at all) or the ISP doesn’t have an accurate log of who was using what address when, and the investigator just assumes he has the right user, grabs it and goes with it.

As for these investigators tagging people who don’t even have a computer, all I can call this is sloppiness cubed and raised to the hundredth power, or just plain malice. It’s like they’re just picking names and addresses out of a phone book at random and sending them notices.

I think there should be a way for those who have been falsely accused to gain legal redress in the matter. Problem is, those accused most likely don’t have the money or the resources to defend themselves against such accusations, and so settle rather than risk the RIAA and their juggernaut legal machine bankrupting them and ruining them for life.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Need I remind you that the RIAA once tried to sue a grandmother that had passed away?

Or that they tried to sue an elderly couple that only used the Internet to email to relatives and didn’t even have p2p software installed?

Or that they tried to sue a family that didn’t even have a computer?

Suspicious says:

Re: Re: Re:

Suspicions are nice and easy but baseless without evidence, even in this sick world where one is presumed guilty before being proven not.

Second – the IP gathering algothim has yet to be tested and verified, one cannot just assume it to be perfect. The fact that it/they have not been opened up for scruteny makes one fear for its accuracy.

Third – IP Spoofing is all to easy – therefore the alleged holder of an IP Address might indeed be entirely innocent of every event that supposedly occurred on that IP address.

Fourt – not all “ordinary” internet users can possibly be tecnically savvy enough to protect every wireless connection against every threat to it even with WEP2. To assume otherwise is both immature and unwarrented.

Fourth – are you an apologist for the recoding industry or dubious “law” firms????? Only asking ….

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@TAM Now you are defending extortion and scamming. These people have no interest in curbing piracy they are just extracting money by scaring people.

In fact it is ACS law who are behaving like pirates (like the Somali pirates in fact).

I have read numerous submissions to the UK government consultation on “Digital Britain” from people who have been accused and I can assure you that it is absolutely incredible that all of these people are actually guilty of anything.

I suggest you look at

where you will find more information.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if less than honest people in the world are infecting computers with hidden P2P programs that forward the results on to other locations”

Your paranoia is pretty amazing.

But, I can see your point, some of these may be because someone used their open wireless network, or used their network when they were at the house. So why is the 78 year old guy getting the letter? Shouldn’t the person who actually did the file sharing get the letter? Your argument outlines why IP addresses cannot be used for this type of thing.

Now, back to the reality of the systems they are using to identify content sharing…Haven’t there been enough studies like this one?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“”Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if less than honest people in the world are infecting computers with hidden P2P programs that forward the results on to other locations”

Your paranoia is pretty amazing.”

Actually, he’s not being paranoid about this. It does happen, although more with the kiddie porn set than with the copyright infringement set.

Nonetheless, if someone has been hijacked like that, I think it’s wrong to hold them as guilty of the infringement (or kiddie porn) that they were unaware of. If we are hell-bent on giving them some kind of legal culpability, then there should be law outlawing operating a computer recklessly on the internet (I don’t think there should, but of we have to go there…)

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“But in the end, people are responsible for what happens on their internet connection.”

Actually no they aren’t. People are not responsible if their baseball bats are used to kill or tools from their toolbox are used to break into a house without their knowledge. So you need to amend your statement to at least include “if they are aware of the specific usage” (but even that is debatable).

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Did they pay?

No they don’t upload – what they actually do is to get permission to do a “test download” from the P2P network and then look where their download came from.

The stuff about seeding networks is misinformation.

If you ONLY download they will never find you (but of course most P2P clients re-upload anything they download by default).

nsaamiller (profile) says:


I was booted by my ISP 3 times for ‘illegal activities’ like bit-torrent sharing a copy of some movie, too much email, and some other nonsensical thing. All of which was traced to ‘my’ cable modem. Sure enough, after the third time I made them swap out my modem because I was sure it was being spoofed. (Had to explain ‘spoofed’ to the help desk personnel.) Voila! No more random cut-off from the ISP. Any legal standing for me? Any pre-settlement letter that I can send to Midco? Doubt it. Golden rule, or Shark rule rather. Whoever has the sharks makes the rules.

kfork (profile) says:

Can anyone by some means mimick another person’s IP ?
Can any malware, despite uptodate AV, do something hidden and unknown to the user?

If the answers are YES, then there needs to be critically urgent, massive movment against such acts of “demand-payment” or similar acts so that no body even dares to commit such act in future.

If something is supposed to be “protected” protect it by better means, do not leave the locks open and then blame a passer-by.

:) says:

Puff Fish LoL

Mr Crossley said:

“It has been said that we have no intention of going to court but we have no fear of it,” he said.

That part is hilarious he must know the cost to take thousands of people to court could mean hundreds of separate trials that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but sure they are not afraid just mildly preoccupied about what would happen if people just ignored them and they be faced with the task of having to go to court and actually expend money.

Hope in the U.K. people can sue to recoup their cost and be paid for any damage to their reputations and integrity.

:) says:

Puff Fish LoL

Just remembered the U.K. have one of the most restrict laws about defamation in the world those people from that law firm should be very, very careful on how they deal with the situation or it could cost them a lot. Could a solicitor in Britain loose their right to exercise their profession?

I think if people look carefully at the law they will always find laws that are made to protect the powerful that can be used to counter them. Unless you live in China or Iran where laws are different for different people.

Tyanna says:

The only thing that I don’t understand that even if someone did actually download the files in question, doesn’t the fact that the copyright holder actually shared it mean that it wasn’t infringement any more?

Doesn’t putting it up on a medium such that it’s expected that the content be downloaded by other people mean that you agree to let them download it? And if no, is that not entrapment, which is also illegal?

Seems like their operation is more than questionable, it’s down right shady. I can’t wait until the make the stupid mistake of sending one of those letters out to someone with the knowledge and power to take them to court!

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Tyanna, they are apparently doing the reverse, going onto torrent sites, downloading their client’s files from various people, and tracking the IPs that provide the pieces. This effectively shows intent to share and download (they made it publically available) and it is also much harder to falsify an IP address this way as well.

They aren’t catch people downloading, they are catching people sharing.

Thomas (profile) says:

In the book..

“The Godfather”, Don Corleone says (not sure if it’s exact) “Two lawyers can steal more than 10 men with guns.” Corporations have long lost anything remotely resembling ethics. The settlement people get away with it, so why should they not do it? Same for the **AA; if they manage to get people to pay, why should they give a rat’s arse whether the people actually did anything?

TSO says:

I've always been wondering...

So let’s follow this through:

RIAA **places** the content that **belongs to them** on the internets and allows people to download it.

So HOW IS IT UNATHORIZED? It BELONGS TO THEM and THEY PLACED IT THE “TAKE ME” BIN??? Sounds pretty authorized to me!

Or, they took some random file, gave it a well recognized name and let people download it. So, they downloaded not the actual song but some crap. But, that crap IS NOT THE SONG! So how can you sue them for downloading that song if they DID NOT actually download that song (but some crap instead)???

God, oh please, give these people some brains…

Duke (PPUK) (profile) says:

Quotes from the Lords

As has been mentioned elsewhere recently, the topic of ACS:Law (and their predecessors) has been brought up in the various debates in the House of Lords over the Digital Economy Bill. Phrases such as “legal blackmail”, “bullying”, “irresponsible”, “relentless” and “disreputable” were brought up. It was also noted that the “allegations are based on very secretive processes carried out under no known protocol and of uncertain legality”.

For those interested, complete transcripts of the debates can be found here[].

It is also worth noting that, to my knowledge, none of these cases (including the ones from 2007-08) went to a full trial – all those that were contested were dropped. Apparently ACS:Law has only one registered solicited (the AC part of the name) who was “convicted by the SRA for conduct unbefitting a solicitor in 2006”. The SRA have also confirmed that they’ve launched an investigation into the company more recently (November).

Just to make things even worse, it has been suggested that before taking the ISPs to court to obtain subscribers’ details (which enable them to send threatening letters) they contacted the ISPs to see if they would contest the case and then avoided proceedings against any that would (hence it seems that only customers of BT and Virgin Media are receiving letters).

I would like to second the recommendation to those affected to investigate They have a very informative FAQ section on the topic (although it should not be taken as a replacement for professional legal advice).

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