© Crown copyright 2016
This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0 except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3 or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.
This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letters-alleging-online-copyright-infringement/letters-alleging-online-copyright-infringement
1. What is copyright infringement?
Copyright protects various forms of work and stops others from using it without permission. Copyright protected works may include music, books, photographs, films and many other forms of creative work.
Among other ways, copyright infringement can arise when copyright protected material is copied, or distributed without the copyright owner’s permission.
2. Why might you have received a letter alleging you’ve infringed copyright online?
You may have received a letter if the copyright owner believes someone has used your internet connection to share (or “upload”), copyright protected material, such as a film. This can arise following the use of a peer-to-peer file sharing network to download material, as the software will usually share portions of the material from your computer with others while it is being downloaded (this is central to how such networks operate). In addition by using the file sharing software with its default settings, you will often be offering other people copies of audio or audio/visual files from your own computer.
If copyright material is shared without rights holders’ permission, for example through a file sharing network, they may seek compensation for the financial loss they have suffered. Companies such as Golden Eye, TCYK LLC and Mircom have taken action to get compensation in recent years.
It’s important to understand that the copyright owner can only take action against people responsible for an infringement. This may not be you. Your internet service provider (ISP) can only provide them with details of the internet account holder, but this may not be sufficient for you to be held responsible for the infringement.
3. How did the copyright holder get your details?
When files are copied from common file sharing services, such as those relying on the BitTorrent protocol, users will normally be uploading and sharing the same content due to the way these systems work. The IP addresses of all users currently sharing the file are visible. Copyright owners have systems to collect these IP addresses where they believe users are sharing material without their permission.
A copyright owner may then apply to the court for a Norwich Pharmacal Order. If granted by the court, this order requires an ISP to give copyright owners names and addresses of account holders alleged to have committed the copyright infringement based on the IP address information.
4. What should you do if you receive a notification of alleged copyright infringement?
If you are unsure how to respond seek legal advice. Don’t ignore the letter. Even if you believe that you or anyone with access to your internet connection hasn’t shared the copyright protected material without the copyright owner’s permission. You should respond, even if you request more time to seek advice before you provide a more detailed response.
If you don’t know anything about the alleged copyright infringement check the letter is genuine. There are scams operating where letters are sent to try and gain compensation from you when you might not have to pay. Your ISP may be able to tell you if the letter is part of a legitimate enforcement process.
You should also consider checking with anyone who might have access to your internet connection. For example family and friends who may have your permission and password to use your wi-fi. They may have downloaded or uploaded copyright protected material, and they may be responsible for the alleged infringement.
It is the responsibility of the copyright owner to prove who has committed the infringement. This may or may not be the internet account holder.
5. Where to get further advice
- citizens advice consumer helpline (03454 04 05 06 Textphone: 18001 03454 04 05 06 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
- your Internet Service Provider (such as BT, Sky, Talktalk, and Virgin) and other online sources
- get legal advice from a solicitor
- Get It Right From A Genuine Site offers information about how to find genuine content online