Landmark case spells doom for internet music swappers

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The Independent Online

The record industry has won a landmark court case resulting in bills of thousands of pounds for individuals caught illegally swapping music on the internet.

Civil court proceedings were announced against the music fans in August last year.

Five individuals have been accused of between them making 8,906 songs available to millions of people around the globe.

Today's announcement follows High Court action against two of the five who refused to settle with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK's record industry's trade association.

The cases, in which both men were ordered to stop filesharing illegally, are the first of their kind to be heard in the British courts. The other three civil cases are pending.

The cases could have implications for dozens of people who have refused to settle their cases.

The men, who have not been named, were illegally distributing music over the internet using peer-to-peer filesharing programmes.

The BPI issued proceedings last August against the man from King's Lynn in Norfolk after he failed to reach a settlement.

His defence, that the BPI had no direct evidence of infringement, was rejected by the High Court and summary judgment was granted to the BPI without the need for a trial.

He has been ordered to make an immediate payment of £5,000, but total costs are estimated at £13,500 and damages are expected to take the bill even higher.

The other man, a father of two and postman from Brighton, sought to defend the case against him on the grounds that he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal and did not seek to gain financially.

His case was also thrown out of court, with Judge Justice Lawrence Collins declaring: "Ignorance is not a defence."

The defendant was ordered to make an immediate payment of £1,500, pending final determination of costs and damages.

The BPI has settled the majority of the 139 legal cases it has launched against individual filesharers since October 2004, with some paying up to £6,500 to avoid a court case.

The BPI announced in October 2004 that 28 music fans would become the first people in Britain to be sued by the record industry for illegal file-sharing.

In March last year, it launched a fresh wave of action and announced that 23 of the initial tranche of people had agreed settlements of an average £2,000.

It is currently seeking settlements in a further 51 cases launched last December.

The filesharers, from the length and breadth of the UK, have been given a deadline of January 31 to settle cases and avoid court action.

The BPI says the illegal filesharing has contributed to the decline in sales of British singles, with the market more than halved since 1999.

BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said: "The courts have spoken and their verdict is unequivocal: unauthorised filesharing is against the law.

"We have long said that unauthorised filesharing is damaging the music industry and stealing the future of artists and the people who invest in them.

"Here is clear confirmation of what we also said - that unauthorised filesharing is illegal."

BPI general counsel Roz Groome said: "We have been very patient litigators. We have given these people every opportunity to settle.

"Only when they refused to settle did we take them to court, which has now found in our favour. These rulings are a massive step forward in the music industry's bid to fight illegal filesharing.

"We would warn anyone else tempted to illegally upload and download music to cease immediately. The legal penalties can be significant."