I have previously blogged here on why the use of the BitTorrent peer to peer file sharing protocol to distribute large amounts of information over the internet has proved problematic for the law, see Privacy of internet users, internet file-sharing and copyright: the present “Wild West” and the Digital Economy Act 2010

On 12 January 2012, the Technology & Construction Court demonstrated a readiness to tackle BitTorrent seeders in appropriate cases. In AMP-v- Persons Unknown [2011] EWHC 3454 (TCC) the Claimant’s explicit private digital photographic images had been stored on her mobile phone which was stolen while she was at University. Following the theft, the images of her were uploaded to a free online media hosting service for the sharing of images. They were then also uploaded to a Swedish site hosting BitTorrent files.

Ramsey J granted the Claimant an interim injunction to prevent the distribution of the images both by conventional downloading and by downloading by the use of the BitTorrent Protocol.

Unsurprisingly, the court found that the publication of the images infringed the Claimant’s right to respect for her private and family life under Article 8 and that right outweighed the rights of freedom of expression of users of BitTorrent client software to download the digital photographic images using the BitTorrent protocol and to disseminate them by seeding them.

Ramsay J. found that the users of the BitTorrent client software who were downloading and uploading the digital images had no rights in that information and that information was of a personal, private and confidential nature which the Courts should protect.

The court also found that the Claimant had a good arguable case that the conduct of disseminating the digital photographic images amounted to harassment of the Claimant under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Interestingly, the Respondents who were named in the application as “Persons Unknown” were neither present nor represented and the Claimant had not taken all practical steps to notify them. However, the Judge considered there were compelling reasons why they should not be notified. If each Defendant had to be notified before the Injunction were granted it would effectively deprive the Claimant of the opportunity to obtain the immediate interim relief which would otherwise be appropriate to protect her Article 8 rights.

The court accepted expert evidence to the effect that seeders of the BitTorrent files could be identified by way of their Internet Protocol Addresses whilst they were seeding and that it would therefore be possible to obtain the IP Address of every seeder and identify from that address their physical location, name and address from their Internet Service Provider. They could therefore be served with an order requiring them to take steps to stop their account from being used.