Copyright shake-up to thwart speculative invoicing

Online pirates face increased legal action under plans to battle copyright infringement via a small claims system, but it could stop so-called “speculative invoicing” attempts.

Copyright shake-up to thwart speculative invoicing

The Department for Business, Innovation, and Skill (BIS) said it would be faster and cheaper to deal with copyright action via a small claims court than a full trial.

According to BIS, the system will let small and medium-sized businesses take action over IP infringement, including targeting illegal downloaders.

“Small firms, whose intellectual property has been infringed, will have a simpler and easier way to take their cases forward, by writing direct to the judge and setting out the issues,” BIS said. “Lower legal costs will make it easier for entrepreneurs to protect their creative ideas where they had previously struggled to access justice.”

The system would cap costs at £5,000.

Consumer protection

While it might sound like a licence for music companies and other creative industries to target more end users, the new system has been welcomed by consumer groups, which claim users will be more willing to defend themselves against false accusations of illegal downloading.

The fast track could hamper schemes such as speculative invoicing, which works because end users fear that they will face hideous costs if they battle to clear their names, said Consumer Focus.

This is a significant step to update the UK’s copyright enforcement regime so that it deals proportionately with online copyright infringement by consumers

“This is a significant step to update the UK’s copyright enforcement regime so that it deals proportionately with online copyright infringement by consumers,” said Saskia Walzel, policy manager for Consumer Focus, which had been campaigning for the changes.

The consumer group gave two examples of cases where copyright infringers had previously been hit with costs of £10,000 and £14,000 in cases where little or no damages had been awarded.

“One reason why so few cases have been brought against consumers is that suing for low value but high volume copyright infringements was disproportionately expensive in a system designed for high value business disputes,” Walzel said.

“Therefore copyright owners have sought to settle as many cases as possible out of court. But some solicitors took advantage of the fact that legal advice on copyright law is unaffordable for consumers,” she said. “Speculative invoicing campaigns were conducted against thousands of internet subscribers, even targeting people innocent of any copyright infringement for hundreds of pounds in settlement payments.”

One such case featured ACS Law, which demanded hundreds of pounds in settlements from file-sharers accused of illegally downloading porn, despite never successfully taking anyone to court.

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