Copyright trolls are companies that make a business out of monitoring file-sharing networks for illegal downloads and instead of trying to prevent them, try to cash in instead.
In letters sent to alleged file-sharers, copyright trolls use often complex and threatening language in order to imply something terrible will happen if recipients don’t pay between hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars to make supposed lawsuits go away.
During September 2014, TorrentFreak became aware of a UK court case titled TCYK LLP v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd. TCYK stands for The Company You Keep and is the title of a film of the same name directed and starring Robert Redford, appearing alongside Susan Sarandon and Shia LeBeouf.
In court, TCYK LLP forced Sky to hand over the names and addresses of subscribers alleged to have downloaded the movie without permission. Earlier this year the ISP warned affected subscribers of what might come next.
“It’s likely that TCYK LLC will contact you directly and may ask you to pay them compensation,” Sky noted.
Sky were correct on both counts. Before the weekend TorrentFreak obtained a copy of the letter now being sent out to Sky subscribers by TCYK. It’s the usual framework of veiled and direct threats, designed to intimidate users into handing over hard cash.
“Our forensic computer analyst has provided us with evidence that on the following UK date and time, [redacted by TF], all or part of the Work was made available from the internet protocol (or IP) address [redacted], specifically for the purpose of downloading by third parties,” the letter reads.
We have redacted the time and date to protect our source but it is noteworthy that the alleged offense was carried out more than two years ago in April 2013.
In a common feature of these claims, TCYK go on to admit that they have no proof that a specific person committed the offense and that they have simply targeted the bill payer instead. They then pressure that person to help them build a case.
“In the event that you were not responsible for the infringing acts outlined above because, for example, another member of your household was the user of the computer, you should make full disclosure to us of the other parties at your residence using your internet connection to make the Work available for download,” TCYK note.
“A failure to make such disclosure may lead to the claim being made against you with the court being asked to conclude, on the balance of probabilities that you were the user of the computer.”
Of course, no subscriber is under any obligation to tell TCYK anything and, as we have pointed out before, if the subscriber didn’t carry out the offense and did not authorize anyone using his connection to do so, he or she is not liable under the Copyright Act.
Also of note is that these days it’s common, considering access for both family and friends, for more than a dozen people to use a residential WiFi. It’s certainly possible (“on the balance of probabilities”) that a court would recognize that too.
Another common feature of UK cases (and upcoming Aussie cases) is that the courts ask trolls not to ask for money in their first letter. TCYK stick to that format but clearly advise that their next letter will contain a demand.
After inviting the letter recipient to confess (or snitch on someone else), TCYK says it will arrive at a settlement figure based on what it gets told.
“We will propose an appropriate figure to you in the subsequent letter after we have received your response to this letter and carefully considered its contents,” TCYK writes.
“It is therefore in your interests to respond to this letter, because a failure to do so may lead the claimant to invite you to pay a figure which is higher than the amount it might ask for if it is persuaded that any unlawful conduct has been inadvertent or minor.”
As always, letter recipients are invited to read the Speculative Invoicing Handbook (pdf) and remain acutely aware that everything revealed to companies like TCYK will be used as leverage against them.
The really wise advice is not to communicate with them at all. UK solicitor Michael Coyle from Lawdit Solicitors is again stepping up to the mark to defend those affected by this latest wave.
“I’ve been sent many emails from people who have received a letter of claim from TCYK. The letters are very similar in format to the letters sent in previous campaigns and once again assume that copyright infringement based on the identity of the person who pays the bill,” Coyle informs TF.
“TCYK has paid £32,000 in respect of Sky’s costs and their solicitors costs so that is a considerable sum to recover in terms of damages from those individuals. My advice is to decline to make a payment as copyright infringement cannot be established on the basis set out in the letter.”