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UK Law Firm TBI Quits Sending Illegal File Sharing Threat Letters to ISP Users

Posted: 12th Apr, 2010 By: MarkJ
lawConsumer magazine Which? reports that Tilly, Bailey and Irvine Solicitors (TBI) has stopped sending out copyright infringement threat letters to broadband ISP customers in the UK because of the "adverse publicity" it brought . The letters were typically sent to those "suspected" of involvement with the downloading of copyright work without paying for it.

TBI Statement:

"We have been surprised and disappointed at the amount of adverse publicity that our firm has attracted in relation to this work and the extra time and resources that have been required to deal solely with this issue.

We are concerned that the adverse publicity could affect other areas of our practice and therefore following discussions with our clients, we have reluctantly agreed that we will cease sending out further letters of claim.

We should stress that this decision is based on purely commercial reasons and does not alter our view that our conduct has always complied with the Solicitors Code of Conduct (SCoC)."

Law firms usually track abuse by monitoring the Internet Protocol ( IP ) addresses of online users, which are assigned to your computer each time you go online. These addresses are not an effective way of determining a person’s true identity. They can easily be faked, hijacked, redirected and generally abused and used in ways that cannot always be detected. Suffice to say that innocent users have been caught up and some courts already take a dim view of the practice.

TBI, like similar law firms (e.g. ACS:Law), worked by gaining related customer details from ISPs through court orders and then sending threatening letters to those suspected of involvement with illegal downloads. The letters typically requested several hundred pounds in compensation (some added up to around £700). Those who refuse to comply are often threatened with legal proceedings.

illegal p2p torrent

It's been known since March this year that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has also been investigating TBI and is currently considering whether the firm should be referred to a disciplinary tribunal, just like Davenport Lyons last month (here). ACS:Law faces a similar threat, although the SRA is known to be somewhat slow in reaching its conclusions.

Deborah Prince, Which?’s head of in-house legal, said:

"Hopefully, other law firms thinking of going down a similar route will begin to realise that although this work can generate vast financial rewards for law firms and their clients, it can also bring a lot of adverse publicity simply because the practice is inherently unfair and unethical.

The letters of claim that we have seen from three law firms [ACS Law Solicitors, Davenport Lyons and TBI] have been disproportionate responses to the alleged illegal file sharing activity. We also believe they were bullying in tone and that the behaviour of these firms breached the SCoC."

Ironically, with the passing of the new Digital Economy Bill (DEB), such law firms may actually find it harder to make money from this practice because ISPs will now be required to send toned down warning letters directly. This means that Rights Holders will have less reason to hire such firms, except to tackle more extreme cases. That of course assumes that extreme cases are not common.

Meanwhile ACS:Law is busy threatening Slyck.com's forum members with a Lawsuit, somewhat ignoring the very legitimate concerns that ordinary people may have with this practice of threat letter writing. Separately the Governments own Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, thinks that an IP address stands for "Intellectual Property address" :mixedup: . The lack of technical understanding among politicians is one key reason why many expect DEB to be a flop (see this for an example of poor government I.T. knowledge).
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