UK: Harassing innocent users for copyright infringement
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Deutsch: UK: Schuldlose User der Verletzung von Urheberrechten bezichtigt
ACS:Law having sent tens of thousands of cash demands to make supposed copyright infringement lawsuits go away, has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Group for "bullying and excessive conduct".
The referral was the result of a coordinated work of wrongly accused people and of consumers groups such as Which? and BeingThreatened.com. However, Andrew Crossley, the principal of ACS:Law, goes regularly to court against thousands of individuals he states are infringing his clients' copyrights, although he presents no solid proof for his allegations. The law says that in order to have infringed copyright, Internet subscribers must have either shared files themselves or explicitly authorized someone else to do it. ACS:Law cannot know who used a computer at a given time and wrongfully suggest that the bill payer is the infringer or that he (she) has the responsibility to say who did the alleged file-sharing. The company's actions seriously affect a lot of wrongly accused people.
ACS:Law has been one of the most controversial law companies in the last years. The company has kept busy the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA), a body regulating more than 110 000 solicitors in the UK, the regulatory body of the Law Society of England and Wales, which is meant to keep an eye on disreputable lawyers.
According to TorrentFreak, in September 2009, the complaints made to the SRA about the conduct of ACS:Law constituted more than 16% of all complaints for the whole month. Since 8 July 2010, the SRA has received an unprecedented number of 418 official complaints against ACS:Law from members of the public, a record in the IP sector.
In 2009, consumer group Which? filed a complaint against ACS:Law in which it accused the law firm of bullying recipients by its threatening letters. Finally, SRA has now referred Andrew Crossley to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which adjudicates upon breaches of professional conduct and is meant to protect the public by maintaining the reputation of the legal profession. Its powers include the ability to fine, reprimand or even strike off a lawyer, but the process will be long.
"We also echo the comments of Which? that the process appears very drawn out and consumer unfriendly. We would also welcome clarification from the SRA as to whether a temporary hold has been enforced on the continued practice of ACS:Law in relation to filesharing cases or if they will be free to continue their campaign unabated until the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has ruled," stated BeingThreatened.com's spokesman for TorrentFreak.
A team of lawyers is offering to coordinate a group action in order to gather compensation for Crossley's harassed victims. "It can be incredibly upsetting for people to receive such letters and they may well have a claim for harassment against ACS Law so I am urging them to come forward," says Michael Forrester of Ralli's Intellectual Property and Harassment Law team.
"Our aim is for the actions to cost claimants nothing," said Robert Illidge from Ralli's. "It depends on who is involved, how many claims and how the cases are presented. There are a number of ways of funding group action litigation such as the 'no win, no fee' basis."
A success of the action may bring damage compensations for the participants for their "financial loss and anxiety the letters and other correspondence have caused. The law also allows individuals to obtain injunctions in certain specific circumstances, which, if obtained would prevent the harassment from continuing," added Illidge.
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File-Sharing Lawyers To Face Disciplinary Tribunal (23.08.2010)
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