Sky Will Hand Over Customer Data in Movie Piracy Case

The UK's second largest ISP is about to hand over the personal details of customers to a company known for demanding cash from alleged file-sharers. Sky Broadband says it will hand over the names and addresses of subscribers to TCYK LLC and warns customers that the movie company will probably ask for compensation.

skyAny regular reader of these pages will be familiar with the term “copyright troll”. These companies have made a business model out of monitoring file-sharing networks for alleged copyright infringements, tracking down alleged offenders and then demanding hard cash to make supposed lawsuits go away.

The practice is widespread in the United States but also takes place in several countries around Europe. Wherever the location, the methods employed are largely the same. ‘Trolls’ approach courts with ‘evidence’ of infringement and demand that ISPs hand over the details of their subscribers so that the copyright holder can demand money from them.

During September 2014, TorrentFreak became aware of a UK court case that had just appeared before the Chancery Division. The title – TCYK LLP v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd – raised eyebrows. From experience we know that TCYK stands for The Company You Keep and is the title of the film of the same name directed and starring Robert Redford, appearing alongside Susan Sarandon and Shia LeBeouf.

While the movie itself is reportedly unremarkable, the response to it being unlawfully made available on file-sharing networks has been significant. In the United States TCYK LLC has filed dozens of copyright infringement lawsuits against Internet subscribers in many states including Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Minnesota, to name a few. Those interested in their U.S-based activities can read about them extensively on ‘troll’ watching sites DTD and Fight Copyright Trolls.

The big news today, however, is that TCYK LLC is about to start demanding cash from customers of the UK’s second largest ISP, Sky Broadband. TorrentFreak approached Sky back in September for information on the case but after several emails back and forth the trail went cold. We can now reveal what has transpired.

Sometime during 2014 TCKY monitored BitTorrent swarms for individuals sharing their movies without permission. The company went to court to obtain what is known as a Norwich Pharmacal Order which would oblige Sky to hand over the identities of their subscribers to TCYK. TorrentFreak has now learned that an order has been granted.

In a letter being sent out to Sky subscribers, the company warns of what is to come.

“We need to let you know about a court order made against Sky earlier this year that requires us to provide your name and address to another company,” the letters begin.

“A company called TCYK LLC, which owns the rights to several copyrighted films, has claimed that a number of Sky Broadband customers engaged in unlawful file-sharing of some of its films. In support of this claim, TCYK LLC says it has gathered evidence of individual broadband accounts (identified online by unique numbers called IP addresses) from which it claims the file sharing took place.”

Sky notes that it cannot vouch for the accuracy of the evidence but notes that the existence of the court order means that it must compromise its subscribers’ privacy. In several other countries ISPs have fought to keep their subscribers’ details secure so we asked Sky what efforts, if any, they took to do the same. At the time of publication we had received no response.

To its credit, however, Sky is warning its customers of what is likely to come next.

“It’s likely that TCYK LLC will contact you directly and may ask you to pay them compensation,” Sky notes.

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We’ll clarify something here. When TCYK get in touch their ONLY reason for doing so will be to obtain compensation. Many people will pay up out of fear since TCYK will imply (if not directly state) that a court case could follow if a settlement is not reached.

It is almost certain that these threats are mere bluster and again, to Sky’s credit, the company outlines potential weaknesses in TCYK’s case.

“We advise you to read the letter from TCYK LLC carefully. It may be that you are not aware of the things that are being claimed: for example, if other people have access to your Internet connection, or simply because you do not recall downloading or sharing the film.”

The facts are simple. If letter recipients did not download or share the film or did not authorize someone else to do so (i.e by specifically telling someone else that they can use their connection to download and share pirate content) then the subscriber is not responsible for the infringement and does not have to pay a penny.

If someone else did share TCYK’s film on the Internet connection in question then it is up to TCYK to identify that person by name. The bill payer is under no obligation to try to help TCYK to do so if they have no idea who that person is.

Sky conclude by suggesting that letter recipients contact either the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. TorrentFreak spoke with Michael Coyle from Lawdit Solicitors who has dealt with these kinds of cases previously.

“I am surprised that the [Court] Order was granted for the release of the names as the High Court has been particularly damning about speculative invoicing ‘claims’ – see in particular the words of HHJ Birss QC in Media CAT v Adams and HHJ Arnold (here),” Coyle told TF.

“Added to the fact that the Claimant is a notorious troll in the US adds to the mystery and we can only wait and see what the letters are demanding. [Letter recipients] should not panic and above all should not pay until such time as they’ve taken legal advice,” Coyle concludes.

In any event, recipients should read the following article detailing the Speculative Invoicing Handbook Second Edition, a publication which explains how UK copyright trolls operate and how they should be dealt with.

At the time of publication Sky Broadband had not responded to our request for comment.

Update: Sky’s response to TF

“TCYK LLC successfully applied for a court order against Sky, which means we have been ordered to supply the details of some of our account holders that match the list of IP addresses they have identified. We advise any of our customers who receive a letter from TCYK LLC to read it carefully and if they want any further help to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

Update2: Sky’s spokesperson would not reveal the number of letters being sent out to Sky’s customers.

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