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File-share defender fired over TV show

File-share defender fired over TV show

A software engineer and champion of peer-to-peer file sharing is planning legal action after being sacked for expressing his views on BBC's Newsnight.

Alex Hanff, 31, was just a week into his job as a consultant at Aldcliffe Computer Systems in Lancaster when he was invited on to last Monday's edition to comment on the US supreme court's decision to hold software companies responsible for permitting illegal file sharing over their networks.

The next day managers told him he was fired because the opinions he expressed on the show were "inappropriate", Mr Hanff claimed yesterday.

Newsnight interviewed him because in March he was served with legal papers by the Motion Picture Association of America for running a Website called DVD-Core that pointed users to files of movies, some illegally copied, distributed using BitTorrent file-sharing software. It was this his employer objected to, saying he should have disclosed it when interviewed.

Mr Hanff had shut down the site on his own volition the previous December. He argued that the case, which he plans to fight, was a civil case in a foreign country that had yet to begin. "When they dismissed me they said I should have disclosed it to them. A civil case that hasn't started yet is nothing to do with them," he said yesterday.

"As far as I was concerned they knew about it. They're an IT company with IT professionals, it wouldn't have taken five minutes on Google to find out," he said, adding that several colleagues had discussed the case with him prior to his dismissal.

If the case comes to court, he plans to argue that the site did not host the files itself, was not administered by him, did not make any money, and was more focused on forums and communities than file sharing. "It was a community of people with real bonds and friendships," he said.

Managers also knew about the Newsnight interview, he claimed, allowing him to leave work early on Monday. "When I first went to work on Tuesday, everything was fine. The whole office was supportive. At lunchtime the technical director took me to the conference room and dismissed me." He said he had been told that his presence within the company could count against it when bidding for big government contracts.

A manager from the parent company Tribal Group later phoned, he said, to improve the offer of one week's redundancy pay to three months. He refused and plans to take legal action, claiming that he was sacked for a "philosophical belief" in contravention of employment law and the European Human Rights Act.

Tribal Group said in a statement: "The decision to terminate [Mr Hanff's] employment was made in order to defend our legitimate business interests. Mr Hanff has declared that he is opposed to copyright and intellectual property laws. Since much of our business is based around the protection of our copyright and intellectual property, we consider our dismissal of Mr Hanff entirely justified and appropriate."

A BBC spokeswoman added: "Any dispute about employment is a matter between Mr Hanff and his employers."

The supreme court ruling, which gives record companies and media owners the ammunition to prosecute software networks in the US, has re-ignited debate over their determination to go after smaller sites and individuals. US record labels have unleashed more than 700 lawsuits in the wake of the ruling.


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