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SRA Claims UK Law Firm Knew File Sharing Threat Letters Targeted Innocent People

Posted: 19th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
p2p file sharing lawThe Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has accused an infamous law firm, Davenport Lyons, of knowingly "targeting people innocent of any copyright breach" when they sent "bullying" settlement letters to those suspected of being involved with unlawful ("illegal") broadband ISP based P2P File Sharing.

The SRA made its claim as part of their submission to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which is due to start in May 2011 and should last for just 7 days. Davenport Lyons, headed up by David Gore and Brian Miller, was originally referred to the SDT by the SRA in March this year (here), which followed a lengthy investigation into the firms dubious practices; most of which took place between 2006 and 2009.

An SRA Statement said:

"Each of the respondents knew that in conducting generic campaigns against those identified as IP holders whose IP numeric had been used for downloading or uploading of material that they might in such generic campaigns be targeting people innocent of any copyright breach."

Davenport Lyons, like many specialist internet focused Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) solicitors (e.g. ACS:Law), gathered public Internet Protocol ( IP ) addresses from file transfers (uploads) on P2P networks and used these to extract customer details from ISPs via a court order. ISPs rarely contested such cases, which made customer data extremely easy to obtain.


Fig.1 - Example of P2P torrent download files

The firm then sent thousands of letters to those it suspected of involvement with copyright file sharing, which frequently demanded several hundred pounds in compensation for the alleged act and a further fee to cover costs. Those receiving the messages were threatened with legal proceedings if they refused to pay, which in reality rarely ever happened.

However IP addresses, which are assigned to your computer each time you go online, are not an effective way of determining a computer user's true identity and innocent people often appear to have been incorrectly targeted.

IP's can easily be faked, hijacked, redirected and generally abused or used in ways that the systems employed by such trackers cannot detect. Furthermore the owner of a particular connection (IP), such as in case of a hotel, business or shared public/home Wi-Fi network (secure or not), may not be the individual responsible for the actual act itself.

Since then the SRA has officially referred another equally notorious solicitors firm, ACS:Law (Andrew Crossley), to a disciplinary tribunal after it performed an almost identical practice (here). ACS:Law was brutally exposed in September after it accidentally allowed the firms private emails to leak into the internet (here), which has since helped to exposed many of the dubious practices involved with "speculative invoicing" of this nature.
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