Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lawyers Leap on Electronic 'Paper Trail' in Hunt for Firms That Use Pirated Software; No Laughing Matter: Microsoft Founder Bill Gates (Right) Unveils a New Edition of His Windows Software. but Woe Betide Any Corporation That Chooses to Use a Pirated Version of a Programme Such as Windows. the Maximum Penalty under UK Law Is 10 Years in Prison and an Unlimited Fine

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lawyers Leap on Electronic 'Paper Trail' in Hunt for Firms That Use Pirated Software; No Laughing Matter: Microsoft Founder Bill Gates (Right) Unveils a New Edition of His Windows Software. but Woe Betide Any Corporation That Chooses to Use a Pirated Version of a Programme Such as Windows. the Maximum Penalty under UK Law Is 10 Years in Prison and an Unlimited Fine

Article excerpt

Byline: JOSHUA ROZENBERG

CONSUMERS who download pirated video games are beginning to realise that they may receive solicitors' letters demanding compensation for breach of copyright. But businesses using unlicensed software may be surprised to discover that they now face a real risk of criminal prosecution. In some circumstances, directors may become personally liable for illegal behaviour by their companies.

The Consumers' Association, which publishes Which?, wrote to the Solicitors Regulation Authority last month, complaining that hundreds of consumers had received "bullying" letters from a West End law firm, demanding [pounds sterling]500 in damages for copyright infringement.

Which? believes some consumers have been scared into paying compensation for something they say they did not do.

The firm that wrote the letters, Davenport Lyons, is confident it has not broken the regulator's rules. It believes that consumers who buy music, films and games must be frustrated when they see people making the same material available to download free. "The honest consumer ends up paying in the end," it adds.

How can software and entertainment providers identify illegal downloads? Anyone who logs on to a file-sharing network automatically discloses the unique address that is assigned to their computer at that time.

Armed with this so-called IP address, the rights owner can then obtain a court order requiring the relevant internet service provider to disclose the name and address of its customer. But the system is not foolproof. Disputes can arise when an unauthorised person has logged on to someone else's broadband account, which is why you should always make sure your wireless connection is password-protected.

Resolving these disputes and awarding compensation for copyright breaches are generally matters for the civil courts. But some infringements by businesses amount to criminal offences.

Section 92 of the Trade Marks Act 1994 and section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 can be used against any person or company that violates trade marks or copyright law by using pirated software. …

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