Updated on 07/31/2017 by Gavin Phillips
Until recently, I’d never actually met anyone that had received a copyright infringement letter for downloading films on the internet. Their Internet Service Provider contacted them directly, informing them that they would take them to court unless they agree to pay a set fine.
My friend was, unfortunately, culpable. Not wanting to risk a court appearance, as well as a larger fine, he settled with his ISP and the copyright holder.
ISPs have made it increasingly difficult to access copyrighted material online. The most popular torrent sites have been systematically shut-down or censored. Video-hosting sites suffer similar fates. At the same time, on-demand services such as Spotify and Netflix have curbed the demand for illegal content.
But that doesn’t mean it has gone anywhere, and as my friend illustrates, copyright holders are just as passionate about protecting their property as ever.
So, what happens if you receive a letter? Let’s take a look, and consider some general precautions, too.
We Are Writing to Inform You
We are writing to inform you that [your ISP] recently received notification from a copyright owner of a copyright violation that appears to involve [your ISP account]. The work(s) identified by the copyright owner in its complaint are listed below.
We are contacting you because our records indicate that the Internet Protocol (IP) address provided to us by the copyright owner was assigned to your service on the date and time identified by the copyright owner.
When you open a letter containing those words, you could be entering a world of pain. Copyright infringement is a serious crime that ISPs have a duty to investigate; after all, their network is the focal point of the illegal activity.
It should come as no surprise that your ISP is tracking your every movement online. They can see the sites you visit, when you visit them, how long you lurk there for, and more. Included in that is your download activity, which will be inextricably linked to your assigned IP address.
Please note that we have not provided any of your private information to the copyright holder at this time. [ISP] will not provide your identifying information without a lawful subpoena or other lawful process. However, upon receipt of a lawful subpoena or other lawful process [your ISP] will release your information to the copyright owner
This aspect of a copyright infringement notice varies by ISP. The vast majority of ISPs in the U.S. and throughout Europe will issue a first warning similar to this. But, as the document states, if they receive a request, they have to comply — by law.
It isn’t just as simple as changing ISP, either. You might get a clean slate with a new ISP, but unless you’re changing address (and potentially your actual name), that infringement record will hang around.
Make Sure It Doesn’t Happen Again
Once the letter is on your doorstep, you have to know that you’re on a list. (Aren’t we all on list somewhere, anyway?!) While you might not be able to have your name removed from that list, you can certainly ensure nothing else features alongside your name and IP address.
So, what can you do to ensure you don’t trip the switch and incur the wrath of a copyright holder (and your ISP)?
1. Stop All the Downloading
It should go without saying… but stop downloading copyrighted materials through illicit sources. If you’re not sure what the copyright status of a file is, it is best not to download, and attempt to contact the relevant copyright holder. But, in this day and age, we know that torrenting a film isn’t legal. The same goes for music, books, software, video games, and so on. (Though there are some grey areas with video games… )
The rise of Android-based Kodi boxes have further complicated matters. They’re sold openly in shops and on the internet, but the streaming apps might be using copyrighted material. Dan Price explains if it is legal to own and use a Kodi box.
2. Talk to Your Family/Housemates/etc.
If it wasn’t you doing the downloading, talk nicely with everyone you know who has access to your account… hopefully they’ll be honest with you. It could be that one of your kids doesn’t fully understand the risks and issues, and want access to a show they cannot access otherwise.
3. Check the Letter for Details
If no one confesses to the deed, refer back to the letter. In the vast majority of cases, each copyright infringement is individually listed, including name, and type of file. So, if you see the file is the latest Kendrick Lamar album, chances are it wasn’t Great Aunt Ethel (but if she did, props to her). Regardless, the information will help you narrow down who is downloading on your internet connection — you can talk to them about safe downloading, copyright infringement, and alternative sources.
4. Go Internet Usage Hunting
If it really is no one in your household, even after you’ve given the kids the third degree, it might be time to look elsewhere. First stop is your router. While your kids might not use the internet to download copyrighted material, what if they gave the neighbors kids the internet password? Better yet, what if a neighbor is piggybacking on your internet, stealing your bandwidth and triggering the wrath of copyright holders?
Your router will show you any connections. Furthermore, some will even keep a log of recent connections. If there are more devices than you’re aware of, it is time to consider your options.
Use your web browser to access your router interface. The address varies by router, but many companies now print the default router address on the device. My connected device list looks like so:
I can account for all of those devices. If you cannot, you might have found your copyright infringing culprit. Unfortunately, finding out exactly which neighbor is piggybacking is a bit more difficult (and you might not want to cause a confrontation). In this case, your router will have some form of IP address or MAC address filtering or blocking that you can apply.
5. Virus Scan
The last tip is the good old virus or malware scan. While somewhat unlikely, there is a chance that a Trojan is exposing your hard drive to the internet, resulting in unauthorized file sharing. Unlikely, but possible. There are better things to do with remote access to someone’s computer than use it download the latest Transformers film.
Legitimate Downloading Only
I’m sure there are people out there that have never downloaded a copyright protected file in their entire life. I’m not going to lie: I’m not one of them. But as internet services become better, and cater to a massive range of useful things, the need to lurk potentially dangerous download sites to find obscure Indonesian drum and bass becomes less and less.
Furthermore, protecting yourself has become easier, too. We’re certainly not advocating downloading copyrighted material, but a VPN is excellent for protecting your personal online privacy, downloading or not.
Has this article helped you to understand why you received an infringement letter? Has it helped you make a plan to stop it from happening again? Let us know your experiences with copyright infringement in the comments below!