File-share defender fired over TV show
Owen Gibson, media correspondent
The Guardian, Monday July 4, 2005
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
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 reignited 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.