Lawyers quit litigation against alleged file-sharers

By Andrew Charlesworth
14 Apr 2010 View Comments
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Alleged file-sharers face threats of legal action

Law firm Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI) has stopped the bulk mailing of legal threats on behalf of rights holders to people accused of illegal file-sharing.

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The move follows a campaign by consumer charity Which?, claiming the practice is unfair. It effectively reduces the number of UK law firms involved in bulk litigation against alleged file-sharers to one: London-based ACS Law Solicitors.

“We’re really pleased that TBI has decided to move out of the volume litigation business,” said Deborah Prince, Which? head of legal affairs. “Hopefully, other law firms thinking of going down a similar route will refrain as we believe the practice is inherently unfair and unethical.”

The letters – dubbed ‘speculative invoices’ by consumer rights groups - threatened recipients with legal action unless they agreed to pay £700 in compensation to TBI’s clients..

Which? sent the letters to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to investigate because the consumer group considered TBI to be in breach of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct. The SRA has still to decide whether TBI has a case to answer.

Which? has been campaigning against using the blunt instrument of bulk litigation on alleged file-sharers for some time, having received complaints dating back to 2008. The first complaints Which? received were about letters sent from law firm Davenport Lyons.

Which? reported the London-based firm to the SRA in December 2008. The SRA has agreed that there are grounds to call Davenport Lyons to account and has referred the matter to its disciplinary tribunal.

When BBC TV consumer show Watchdog also joined the fray against the litigators, Davenport Lyons quit bulk litigation against alleged file-sharers and handed over much of its work in that area to ACS Law.

The SRA is now investigating ACS Law, but the firm sees no reason to back down.

"To Which? and those who have written to the SRA, I say we are operating in full compliance with the SRA [code of conduct] and will continue to do so," Andrew Crossley, sole principal of ACS Law told Computing. "I welcome the SRA investigation and I'm happy to cooperate."

Which? has produced a guide for people who have mistakenly been served with threatening letters, as have other groups, such as Beingthreatened. Both groups are at pains to point out that they do not condone copyright theft and the guides are for the wrongly accused.

Which?’s campaign has focused on the fact that alleged illegal file-sharers are identified by their IP addresses. Using adapted P2P software, the rights holders and their lawyers home in on an IP address involved in illegal file-sharing and apply for a court order demanding the ISP provides the subscriber account details for that IP address.

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