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ACS Law UK Quits the Illegal Copyright ISP File Sharing Settlement Letters Game

Posted: 25th Jan, 2011 By: MarkJ
p2p copyright uk ISP file sharing lawThe notorious UK solicitors firm ACS:Law (Andrew Crossley), which has been responsible for harassing thousands of broadband ISP customers around the country with dubious settlement demands ("speculative invoicing") over alleged "illegal" (i.e. unlawful) copyright P2P file sharing activity, has shut up shop amid financial problems and serious court concerns.

ACS:Law's tactics have recently suffered a numbered of setbacks, which started last August 2010 when the UK Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) officially referred the firm to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for its questionable conduct (here). A month later they accidentally released a mass of once confidential emails onto the internet (here), which revealed a wealth of disturbing information about how they operated.

Apparently the firm sent out more than 11,000 threat letters (past two years) to those suspected of unlawful copyright file sharing, with more than 3,400 recipients choosing to dispute the claim and over 4,500 not responding. This suggests that approximately one third would have chosen to settle and pay out hundreds of pounds to avoid the courts; not that any of the cases ever actually made it that far, until now.

However in the past couple of months ACS:Law had teamed up with an intermediary firm, MediaCAT, to try suing several suspected copyright infringers in the London Patent County Court. Suffice to say that this did not go according to plan (here and here) and when ACS:Law tried to escape by dropping the cases, Judge Birss QC refused and instead decided to investigate their methods.

The hearing, which went ahead as planned yesterday, was to assess whether or not ACS:Law should be allowed to discontinue its cases against the 26 individuals. Judge Birss QC openly accused ACS:Law and MediaCAT of trying to have the cases dropped so as to avoid further "scrutiny" of their work by "inconvenient judges", which would have allowed them to restart their letter writing campaign again in the future.

After five hours of exchange and a break for lunch, in which ACS:Law and MediaCAT reportedly came off looking quite bad, Andrew Crossley left proceedings and issued an extraordinary witness statement to the court.

Crossley declared that he "has ceased this type of litigation" and the court was told that his 16 former employees have now left or been made redundant by the firm. Alongside claims that he had received death threats, the court also heard that his insurance premiums had escalated in cost since ACS:Law’s data leak in September from £15,000 to £120,000.

James Bench, spokesman for BeingThreatened, commented:

"Solicitor Andrew Crossley’s statement that this work has brought him ‘immense hassle’ should sound alarm bells with others that might have considered similarly exploitative schemes. The problems he has brought upon himself however, pale into insignificance against the distress caused by the campaign of legal threats that he has carried on against innocent broadband account holders for his own personal profit.

The speculative invoicing of Andrew Crossley and his counterparts which have dropped by the wayside, Davenport Lyons, Tilly Bailey Irvine and Gallant Macmillan, was never about protecting copyright; this was never about piracy. We have heard in court today about the 65% of proceeds that Mr Crossley earned from each letter of claim.

This scheme was simply an attempt by Mr Crossley and his conspirators to get-rich-quick in an exploitative scheme where the vulnerable were targeted with unfounded accusations and demands for cash in settlement of claims which had no basis in law.

In addition to his upcoming appearance at the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal, Judge Birss will now also consider if Mr Crossley is guilty of entering into a champertous agreement with rights holders.

The public, and today the justice system, have demonstrated that they will not tolerate attempts by the greedy and unprincipled to bully the public for their own personal gain, and under the banner of copyright protection.”

The Judge concluded by announcing his intention to deliver a written judgement later in the week. This is expected to address whether or not MediaCAT may have the permission of the court to discontinue the claims without being joined by the copyright owners and, if so, if there may be further conditions attached.

He is also expected to deliver a judgement on the abuse of process alleged by the defendants’ counsel. On top of that he will also announce whether or not to impose a ban on ACS:Law and MediaCAT's letter writing campaign, at least until such time as they can resolve their many problems.
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