/ Technology

Accused of piracy? Pay £20 and you can appeal

Blue hand over keyboard

A new system will see warning letters sent out to customers whose internet connections are being used to illegally share music and films. It’s good in principle, but should we have to pay to appeal?

The new system, proposed by Ofcom and the government, is part of the Digital Economy Act, intended to protect copyright holders in creative industries by blocking illegal file sharing.

Individuals will be able to appeal if they feel they’ve been unfairly accused of file sharing. You’re not appealing against court action (at this stage) or disconnection, but against the accusation.  But I’m concerned that many customers just won’t bother.

The idea of broadband providers adhering to a code of conduct has actually been bandied around for some time. It was initially consulted on way back in May 2010, but despite the not insignificant time taken to try and get this right, there are a still couple of things in there that are concerning.

Paying for the right to appeal

The first is the appeal fee that will apply. If a customer wants to appeal an allegation there’ll only be 20 days to do so, but more worryingly, it will cost you £20.

And although you’ll get your money back if the appeal is successful, should you have to pay a fee to defend your name? I can’t think of a single other example of where this type of pre-paying to defend your name might apply. It’s essentially assuming guilt from the outset.

You could receive multiple warning letters (no more than one per month) and appeal at any stage (as long as you’re within the 20-day limit), but receive three or more letters in a 12-month period and things get heavier. The copyright owner can be alerted to the infringement on the customer’s account – at this stage it can be done anonymously. But the owner could then go on to seek a court order to identify the customer, potentially allowing them to take legal action against you.

Many sharing one internet connection

The other issue that worries me is whether these notification letters are going to the right people? The Department for Culture Media and Sport has said the letters will go to ‘account holders’ which suggests that the named person who pays the bills will be notified.

But what about the many houses where more than one user shares the connection?

I live in a shared house where only one of us is named on the bill, but what would happen if someone else in the house was illegally accessing content? Thankfully, we all get on quite well. But if we didn’t, and an issue like this cropped up, I can imagine a few problems arising.

We’re not alone in raising concerns over the issue and we’re worried people don’t currently have enough access to free advice and information on their rights in this situation. Consumer Focus has campagined on this issue over the years and feel that ‘people who are innocent should not have to pay a fee to challenge accusations’.

We’ll be working with other consumer groups and the government to iron out some of our concerns over the Digital Economy Act. But do you think it’s acceptable to pay a £20 fee, or should we be given the benefit of the doubt?


It would be helpful to have a link to the “new” proposals, all I can find on the Ofcom site is the consultation which ended in 2010 !

I am interested in how all the cafes, bars, museums, hotels, B&Bs and holiday accommodation who provide free Wifi will manage, let alone the private individuals who share wifi via FON etc.

How I wonder do they control the hackers who invade your computer?
just a thought as I have a neighbour who works for a bank and ask me if he could log into my computer as they comp was down, as he is a trustworthy person I allowed this but at least he was being honest but hey made me wonder if he can do it with me knowing heck

Daz says:
28 June 2012

O dear, o dear Is that human rights blatantly being overlooked…There’s a reason its innocent until PROVEN guilty. What will they think of next! However something must be done to stop these ‘loopholes’ with file sharing, etc.

Dale says:
28 June 2012

To me the onus should be on the companies wanting to stop the fraud and to stop using the ISP’s as law enforcers, I know of friends kids who use share items via Dropbox etc all the time, isn’t this the same as swapping tapes, dvd’s and cd’s with each other.

What about the burden of proof being with the prosecution to establish?
Or in simple terms “innocent until proven guilty”
No better than wheel clampers.

Susanna says:
30 June 2012

I received an email claiming I have illegally downloaded content and asking me to pay £50 to an email address. I am.not the account holder for our internet connection, I have not downloaded anything I shouldn’t have, and I have no idea how my email address could have been obtained. Has anyone else had this and is this spam? Thanks.

Hi Susanna – this doesn’t sound like an official communication at all – I’d strongly recommend you don’t pay! I’ve seen other reports of people receiving similar emails, like this one here: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/security/375607/fake-dea-letters-demand-50-piracy-fine

It’s also worth forwarding the email on to email@actionfraud.co.uk to see if they can look into it – they investigate internet crime.

How come ofcom could be given such draconian powers. Petition on the govts web site would be an immediate project. As for paying to appeal rubbish. Parliament is much too ready to give sweeping powers to quangos (DVLA). Will it drive people to go back to copying off CDs? Will they open packets to check CDs? Does anyone remember a firm of solicitors in London harrassing so called file sharers?

The very statement that you can “appeal” suggest that you have already been found guilty. No trial, no legal process just guilty out of the blue. On top of that you have to then pay to appeal and presumably prove your innocents. Whatever happened to English justice – innocent until proven guilty.

Susanna says:
2 July 2012

Hi Nikki, thank you for the info. Much appreciated. Susanna 🙂

How would this work, if you are in a sharers house? It always worries me taking a broadband contract in my name when housemates could potentially illegally download files. For the moment I’m sticking to mobile broadband to avoid this, but just a thought