Time Up for U.K. File-Sharers?

Thousands of people suspected of sharing music, films and games over the Internet will be pursued through the courts for damages, lawyers for entertainment companies said on Wednesday.

London-based law firm Davenport Lyons said it would apply to the High Court to force Internet service providers to release the names and addresses of 7,000 suspected file-sharers. They could be subject to civil action in the courts under Britain’s copyright laws.

David Gore, a partner at Davenport Lyons, said it had already begun proceedings against several people in Britain who it says have uploaded protected material to the Internet. The firm won a case at the Patents County Court in London against a woman who shared a pinball game online. She was ordered to pay damages of 6,000 pounds and 10,000 pounds in legal costs to the game’s maker, Topware Interactive.

“Illegal file-sharing is a very serious issue resulting in millions of pounds of losses to copyright owners,” Gore said in a statement.

Record companies, film studios and games makers have stepped up attempts to curb illegal file-sharing after losing millions of pounds in revenue to online piracy. A government-backed deal was struck last month between Britain’s six biggest Internet service providers and the entertainment industry under which file-sharers would be sent warning letters.

The first 500 who ignored the letters would face immediate legal action brought on behalf of five games developers, including Atari, Techland and Codemasters, according to a report in the London Times on Wednesday.

Taking direct action against file-sharers will become an “important and effective” weapon to tackle online piracy, Gore added.

The number of people prosecuted by Davenport Lyons for sharing games could reach 25,000, according to the Times report. They would be offered the chance to pay 300 pounds each to settle out of court, the report added.

No one at Davenport Lyons could immediately be reached to comment on the Times report.

The suspected file-sharers were identified by a Swiss forensic computer company Logistep. It searched for the users’ IP address, a unique number allocated to every computer that connects to the Internet.

The BPI, a music industry body, says more than 6 million people in Britain regularly download music illegally, cutting profits for record companies and making it harder for them to invest in new music.

Supporters of file-sharing dispute that and say it could boost sales by making it easier for people to hear new music.

“For the copyright holder, it’s like free advertising,” said Gerry, a contributor to an online debate on file-sharing on a Reuters Web site. “It really is a new world out there and it’s time the new reality was accepted for what it is.”

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