ISPs profit from coughing up customer data

Music fines

Service providers charge up £120 per user file according to software group

ISPs are making a tidy profit from online piracy by charging up to the £120 to provide data on their customers, according to the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST).

Intellectual property rights holders have been at loggerheads with ISPs since the beginning of peer-to-peer file sharing, blaming bandwidth suppliers for allowing subscribers to download music, video and software from the web without paying.

Under UK law, rights holders can only obtain details of who was using an IP address when copyright material was downloaded by obtaining a court order.

Once they have the necessary documentation, copyright holders can approach ISPs for information from their logs, but they have to pay a hefty charge for the service.

In the end we got about 100 names out of them, but that cost us £12,000

“In 2006, we ran Operation Tracker in which we identified about 130 users who were sharing copies of a security program over the web,” said John Lovelock, chief executive of FAST.

“In the end we got about 100 names out of them, but that cost us £12,000, and that was on top of the investigative costs and the legal fees.”

If it is a criminal case, the ISPs have to give up the information and can charge to recover costs, but in civil cases ISPs can almost name their price for the information.

“There's no uniformity - sometimes it's £85/hour or sometimes it is £100 per contact,” said Lovelock. “But they certainly charge a lot of money.”

ISPs are currently up in arms over being asked to pay 25% of the costs of establishing a system for sending out warning letters under the Digital Ecomony Act, with ISPs hinting that costs of the scheme would be passed on to customers.

Lovelock also called on Ofcom, which is involved in negotiations over how the system would work, not to allow ISPs to increase their data processing charges to cover their share of the costs.

“Ofcom is in the equation as we try to seek an agreement and ISPs will have to convince them that the systems are fair,” he said.

The ISP Association said it didn't have any limits on how ISPs should charge, but did say they had a right to recover the costs of supplying details.

"ISPA doesn’t have any agreed guidelines, but individual ISPs may have agreements with rights holders in order to cover costs of the data retrieval," a spokesperson said. "This is similar to the help ISPs give to serious law enforcement cases in which ISPs are entitled to recover their costs."

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