Last week TorrentFreak broke the news that Voltage Holdings LLC, a company well known for tracking down pirates worldwide, has obtained a High Court order compelling Virgin Media to hand over subscriber data.
As a result, some of the ISP’s subscribers have begun receiving letters accusing them of pirating the movie ‘Ava’ with the advice that if the matter goes to court, they could be found liable for copyright infringement. Of course, this is something Voltage and its partners would prefer to avoid and to that end, are offering recipients the option to admit liability and pay a settlement fee.
In line with earlier High Court guidance, initial letters to subscribers don’t provide any idea of what that settlement amount might be. In the past the sums requested have tended to drift around the several hundred pounds mark but early indications suggest that Voltage and its partners are now aiming much, much higher.
Multiple Thousands of Pounds Requested
According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with TorrentFreak on condition of anonymity, attempting to settle a case with Voltage’s law firm Lewis Silkin LLP will not be cheap. Early indications suggest that the amounts requested run to several thousand pounds and are likely to vary in scale depending on the specific defendant.
At this stage it’s too early to definitively say what factors are being considered when assessing the settlement amount. However, if earlier methodology is deployed it’s possible that Voltage’s anti-piracy monitoring company (believed to be MaverickEye) will take the BitTorrent swarm size (the number of people sharing the movie at the same time) and multiply that by the price of the Ava movie.
As previously reported, this system has serious flaws. However, for people who simply want to settle and move on, paying Voltage a few thousand pounds should make the whole thing go away – at least in respect of this particular accusation. But what about those who wish to contest the claims being made?
Options For Accused Subscribers
At the core of the letters is the assumption that the person who pays the Virgin Media bill is the person who downloaded and shared the movie ‘Ava’ without permission. ‘Assumption’ is key here since Voltage acknowledges that may not be the case and someone else in a household could be liable.
If the bill payer did not carry out the infringement and did not authorize/allow someone else to do so, under the Copyright Designs and Patent Act they are not liable. This means that they can issue a direct denial to Voltage but that would not prevent the company from filing a claim if it believes it has a case.
At this point it’s important to note that any claim by Voltage would be actioned in a civil court where cases are decided on the balance of probabilities – 51% confidence of infringement could tip a case in the company’s favor, resulting in a damages award. That’s in addition to the associated legal costs of a failed defense.
Given that Voltage is setting the bar so high with demands for multi-thousand-pound settlements, it seems likely that defendants who can afford to mount a defense will do so. Michael Coyle of Lawdit Solicitors is currently taking on defendants’ cases for £300 (plus VAT) but for those with fewer resources, it’s difficult to know where they can turn other than Citizens Advice.
However, there are some other interesting facts buried in the High Court order that could render some cases dead in the water before they begin.
Safeguarding Measures Are Built Into the High Court Order
While the letter from Lewis Silkin LLP ticks all the boxes and conforms to the standards laid down by the High Court, there are some interesting details in the actual order that the law firm’s letter does not directly address.
For example, the High Court states that Voltage may not initiate legal proceedings against a minor, which means anyone under the age of 18 in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This means that if a parent pays the bill and a 17-year-old illegally downloaded and shared the movie, Voltage cannot bring a case against them.
Furthermore, the High Court says that Voltage cannot pursue cases against an infringer who is a pensioner. The retirement age in the UK is currently 66 and according to the High Court’s instructions, “anyone over the age of 65” can not have proceedings brought against them. In addition, anyone who is considered ‘vulnerable‘ will not have to face proceedings either.
General Observations and Opinion
In many respects, this new anti-piracy program is the same as those that have come and gone in the past. The allegations are the same and the aims are the same – to have people pay large sums of money to avoid having to fight a copyright infringement lawsuit in court. That being said, this campaign has clearly learned many of the lessons that have dogged similar efforts in the past and is therefore much less likely to run off the rails due to incompetence and inexperience.
While arguably still objectionable given the ratio between the cost of the movie and what appear to be extortionate settlement demands, the project appears to have been planned in fine detail and has some major players on board. Also, given the history of Voltage and its partners, the claimants may yet have some surprise sources of additional evidence up their collective sleeves, rather than just IP addresses alone.
Where possible, all letter recipients should proceed with caution, preferably backed up by a legal professional. Voltage can’t sue everyone but it should be assumed that hand-picking one or two defendants to be made an example of is probably part of the plan.