Gill Murdoch and her husband, Ken MacKinnon, were surprised when a threatening lawyer’s letter came through the door of their Inverness home. It demanded that they pay £500 immediately because they had allegedly made available a copy of a computer game – Risk II – so that it could be pirated across the internet. The pair, 56 and 68 respectively, were stunned, not least because neither plays computer games. “We’re not into things like that,” Murdoch says. “We like to walk our dog, or cycle or garden – we don’t use the internet for anything other than for Googling information.”
She had been accused of making Risk II available on a peer-to-peer basis – a filesharing system allowing anybody to make a copy of the game. “I didn’t even know what peer-to-peer was,” Murdoch adds, admitting she had to ask a friend to explain what she had been accused of. Her first reaction was to call the law firm that had sent the letter. “I rang Davenport Lyons almost immediately, and spoke to a man who refused to give me his name. I never found out who he was,” says Murdoch.
“What happened is that I was told it didn’t matter whether we did it or not. I was told we must have Wi-Fi and somebody else used our connection – but we don’t have Wi-Fi. Then I was told we must have failed to protect our computer with Norton – but we had. He seemed not to care whether we did it or not,” she recalls. Worried by the call, she “thought for a moment I’d lost the house – because of all the legal bills I might have to pay”.
Sure of their innocence, the couple consulted various people. The council’s trade standards watchdog suggested they save up for a lawyer, but eventually, with the help of Which?, the consumer organisation, the claim was fought off after several months of hostile correspondence. But they were hardly alone in receiving an unexpected demand through the post. Over the past two years, three law firms, Davenport Lyons, ACS:Law, and Tilly Bailey & Irvine, have been targeting individuals accused of downloading or sharing pirate material – typically demanding between £500 and £700, amid accusations that the homeowner has been pirating copyright material.
What Murdoch’s case and others like it demonstrate are the problems inherent in trying to suppress internet piracy by identifying individuals who have supposedly engaged in the illegal filesharing of music, television, film or games – and seeking some form of legal redress. Until now this has been a minority sport, but the Digital Economy Act will make the targeting of households more likely. The act could mean that serial pirates have their internet connections cut off, if they can be accurately identified.
British elections comprise a sport unto itself. Most of the time I spent in Scotland or England, I admit I would have voted for the Looney Party over most of the choices offered. There were a few notable exceptions north of the Border.
The willingness of politicians to roll over, stick all four feet in the air and play dead for incompetent corporate cash is beyond unconscionable. Predictable as the rationales offered by both hacks of both species, corporate and parliamentary, the klown brigade seems unable to join up with advances in technology. Ordinary folks get to bear the burden of the result.