On Monday 20th September, London lawyers Gallant Macmillan went to court on behalf of their client and huge independent music label Ministry of Sound. Their aim: to obtain the identities of hundreds of alleged file-sharers from UK ISPs.
The hearing, Ministry of Sound Recordings Ltd v Plusnet Plc, went ahead at 2:30pm in London before judge Chief Master Winegarten (CMW). Other ISPs detailed were BT, Sky and O2/Be Unlimited.
Gallant Macmillan’s legal team expected a walk in the park that day, and why shouldn’t they? Plusnet, a subsidiary of telecoms giant BT, had already agreed that they would not contest the application. The judge, however, had other ideas.
The judge voiced concerns about the amount of mail he had received from Internet subscribers who had been previously wrongly accused. “There wouldn’t be this hue and cry unless you were pursuing people who were innocent,” he told the applicants.
Instead of going ahead and ordering Plusnet to hand over the information to Gallant Macmilan, the judge explained that he had received by letter “concerns from the public” that must first be addressed. The applicant (MoS) was ordered to respond to those concerns by 27th September and the hearing itself was adjourned to be concluded 4th October 2010 – this coming Monday.
Then last weekend, all hell broke loose. While recovering from a DDoS attack, ACS:Law gave a very clear demonstration of how securely they had been holding onto highly personal and sensitive data by publishing their email backups to the public. Not only were the internal workings of the company put on show, but thousands of ISP subscriber identities (Plusnet customers included) were spilled onto the Internet, many of them linked to pornographic content.
Only after these events did the authorities in the UK sit up and listen and ISPs other than TalkTalk and Virgin Media air concerns about these law firms and their actions.
Nevertheless, while Andrew Crossley of ACS:Law sees his company and quite possibly his career in ruins before him, Gallant Macmillan remain undeterred. They will go to the High Court on Monday as planned and demand subscriber identities from Plusnet armed with a case as weak as that presented by ACS:Law, with evidence acknowledged by experts as incapable of identifying an infringer, and employing equally untested data handling, processing and security procedures.
After initially giving ACS:Law and Gallant Macmillan an easy ride, Plusnet now say they will resist applications to hand over customer details to them in future. TorrentFreak has been speaking with Plusnet throughout the week and have asked them on a number of occasions if they will send a proper lawyer to the High Court on Monday prepared to fight the application, but up to now they haven’t been able to give us reassurances that will happen. They have confirmed, however, that they will ask for an adjournment of the hearing to assess the position.
Sadly that may well be too little, too late, and the judge may have no other option but to grant Gallant Macmillan’s application if Plusnet don’t go equipped with a proper lawyer to defend. If they don’t (and end up handing over more details as a result) it will be a PR disaster for the company and the whole speculative invoicing model will be back on track in the UK.
Gallant will write to hundreds of people, scaring the living daylights out of many of them, with letters containing barely understandable legal jargon and veiled threats which to the layman suggest that ruination is round the corner, unless they pay up a few hundred pounds to make it all go away.
It is exactly this sort of behavior and (ab)uses of the legal system which have caused the Anonymous masses and their growing numbers of sympathizers to become absolutely incandescent with rage.
“Gallant Macmillan’s actions are likely to attract the ire of users of 4chan, who are currently targeting firms involved in combating online piracy,” wrote the BBC yesterday. TorrentFreak can confirm that the BBC are correct (pic) in that assumption.
“We as Anonymous are asserting the basic right of a free society – that authorities exist to serve people, not to terrify and cow them,” a leader of the operation told TorrentFreak in a statement. “We are reminding these firms who use fear on us that they should instead fear us. We ask everyone that ever receives a letter from them not to pay up, and not to give in.”
Interestingly, the site that Gallant Macmillan has been using for its speculative invoicing scheme, Pay to Play, has been taken down.
Update:Anonymous: Their site is now producing an “Invalid Hostname” error. This suggests that an administrator has manually pulled the website off the server, although the domain is still pointing to the same server. There is not yet any evidence that this was the result of an early DDoS attack, however it could be because the administrator wanted to avoid the planned DDoS attack and thus pulled the site offline on purpose.