This week Torrentfreak reported a rather interesting letter has been landing on doorsteps across the country – specifically those belonging to Sky customers. The sender of the letter is a company called TCYK, which apparently stands for The Company You Keep. Keen cinemagoers might recall that this is a film in which Robert Redford stars as an ex-member of a radical leftist organisation, who goes into hiding in the 70s, only to be is uncovered by a pesky journalist, played by Shia leBouf.
The letter is around five pages long and couched in language which is designed to sound official and intimidating. It is couched in vaguely threatening legalese and is designed, doubtless, to terrify its victim into paying a substantial fee – or to surrender information around which a legal case can be built.
It includes the customer’s name and IP address, along with the time at which the alleged offence took place. It can be viewed in full here. TCYK LLC, it transpires is the name of a legal firm which own the rights to this film and are apparently named after it.
So why is this important? Well, in January this year, Sky were made by a court order to hand over the details of individuals whom TCYK alleged had breached their copyright. At the time, many speculated that the information would be used to conduct a copyright trolling campaign and so it proved to be.
The modus operandi runs something like this. The company will obtain the names of people who are likely to have violated some form of copyright law. They will then send such people a letter demanding either cash, or information which can be used to leverage more cash.
Rather than actively trying to prevent people from pirating the film which they own the rights to, this firm has instead adopted this dubious tactic. Of course, the rights to small time movie piece is unlikely to prove hugely lucrative – that is, unless the copyright holder decides to employ this highly devious method.
It is difficult to establish guilt in such cases for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the letters send by TCYK mention only a name and an IP address – which hardly sufficient evidence to establish guilt. In order to make a substantial claim, TCYK would likely need to be able to link a specific act of piracy to the IP address in question and then prove that it was the bill payer who committed it. Now, when you consider that there are some households in which dozens of people can use the internet and that the letter in question alleges an offence took place more than two years ago, during April 2013, it becomes clear how impossible it would be to establish guilt – unless of course, someone confesses.
This organisation’s raison d’etre is to speculatively hound potential copyright infringers and to intimidate them into handing over cash in order to make fictitious legal action go away. It’s an easy way to recoup some of the money lost through piracy, since the cost of sending a letter is negligible, and the return can be quite substantial.
That said, the practice is not without its risks – one lawyer who over-indulged in the practice was banned from the profession for two years and fined substantially. His firm sent tens of thousands of letters, each demanding payments of £500 and unsurprisingly no longer exists.
What should I do if I’ve received a letter?
If you receive a letter, don’t despair – even if you suspect that someone in your household has downloaded a film illegally, there is often very little that TCYK LLC can do to prove it. The best advice is to ignore such letters – do not reply with any admission of guilt, nor with any information at all. So flimsy is the case presented by such letters, in fact, that one Southampton-based lawyer even offered to defend people against a similar letter for free, if they contributed to his London Marathon fund.
If you have received a letter and it’s worrying you, then you can always contact Sky via their website or by phone using a direct number provided at www.skyphonenumber.com to ask whether your name is among those handed over.
TCYK LLC is the sort of firm which will not bother to chase up lost causes – they prey on fear and a lack of knowledge of the system. The chances of any such legal action actually materialising are negligible, thanks to a crippling lack of evidence. The best advice is often to ignore such letters – or, if you’re feeling particularly cheeky, to return them to sender!