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ACS:Law
Headquarters London
No. of offices 1
No. of attorneys 1
Major practice areas Civil litigation, commercial litigation, debt and money advice, employment law, intellectual property law
Date founded unknown

ACS:Law is a United Kingdom law firm specialising in intellectual property law. [1] Prior to 2009, its most notable case was the defence of a British national accused of public indecency in Dubai.[2] The firm is best known for its actions against persons allegedly infringing copyright through peer-to-peer file sharing.

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[edit] Company

The main partner of the company, and its only registered solicitor,[3] is Andrew Crossley. Crossley has twice been found guilty of conduct unbefitting a solicitor by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, in 2002 and again in 2006.[4] In August 2010, the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed that Crossley was being summoned to his third disciplinary tribunal, in response to ACS:Law’s action against suspected copyright infringers.[5]

[edit] Action against suspected copyright infringement

ACS:Law first started claims against suspected copyright infringement through peer-to-peer file sharing in early 2009.[6] In November 2009, they announced plans to initiate claims against a further 25,000 individuals;[7] a batch of 10,000 dunning letters were sent out in the first two weeks of January 2010. ACS:Law say that the majority of people choose to settle outside of court rather than fight the claims,[8] but others claim that only 15-40% of people threatened end up paying.[9]

One of ACS:Law’s clients is the Frankfurt based company DigiProtect.[8]

[edit] Solicitors Regulation Authority investigation and tribunal

In September 2009, complaints made to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about the conduct of ACS:Law constituted more than 16% of all complaints to the body for the whole month,[10] and the SRA confirmed that the firm were under investigation.[8] By July 2010, the SRA had received a record 418 official complaints from members of the public.

In August 2010, the SRA ruled that ACS:Law had “a case to answer” regarding its campaign against suspected copyright infringement, and set up a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). It is the third disciplinary tribunal for Andrew Crossley, the head solicitor at the firm. It is expected that the tribunal will make its judgement by the end of 2011.[5]

Crossley has engaged the services of Andrew Hopper QC who, according to Crossley “literally wrote the SRA rules”, to assist in his defence against the SRA/SDT. [11]

[edit] Data leak and investigation by the Information Commissioner

On 21 September 2010, the website of ACS:Law was subjected to a DDoS attack suspected to be coordinated by online group Anonymous. When asked about the attacks, Andrew Crossley said: “It was only down for a few hours. I have far more concern over the fact of my train turning up 10 minutes late or having to queue for a coffee than them wasting my time with this sort of rubbish.”[12]

When the site came back online, a 350MB file which was a backup of the site was visible to anyone for a short period of time. The backup, which included copies of emails sent by the firm, was downloaded and made available as a torrent.[13][14] Some of the emails contained unencrypted Excel spreadsheets, listing the names and addresses of people that ACS:Law had accused of illegally sharing media. One contained over 5,300 Sky broadband customers whom they had accused of illegally sharing pornography,[15][16] while another contained the details of 8,000 Sky customers and 400 Plusnet customers accused of infringing the copyright on music by sharing it on peer-to-peer networks.[17]. This alleged breach of the Data Protection Act has become part of the ongoing investigation into ACS:Law by the Information Commissioner’s Office.[18]

[edit] Criticism

[edit] Investigations by regulatory authorities

As well as the investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, complaints have also been received by The Law Society [19] and the Consumer Action Group.[20]

[edit] Quality of evidence against suspected copyright infringers

ACS:Law identify suspected copyright infringement through peer-to-peer file sharing by the IP address of the internet user’s connection. However, ACS:Law’s use of Logistep‘s technology has been the subject of an investigation by Which?, who said that “innocent people are being accused”.[21][22] Following the batch of 10,000 letters sent in January 2010, over 150 people contacted Which? saying that they had been falsely accused.[8] In an interview with The Guardian, one person who had received letters from ACS:Law commented: “ACS:Law act as investigator, judge and jury without any regard for who their actions affect.”[23]

Researchers in Washington DC found that the technology often results in false positives.[24] ACS:Law responded saying “we are happy that the information we get is completely accurate”.[8] A study by the ISP TalkTalk showed that unsecured wi-fi networks can easily be accessed without permission, leading to innocent users being accused of activity carried out by a third party.[25] Andrew Heaney, spokesman for TalkTalk, explained “the lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process combined with the prevalence of wi-fi hacking will result in innocent people being [blamed]”.

[edit] Lack of court judgements

The only records of successful court cases brought by ACS:Law in relation to copyright infringement through peer-to-peer file sharing were won by default when the defendants failed to appear.[9][26][27] The firm has admitted that they have yet to successfully prove a case in court.[28] ACS:Law state that “it has been said that we have no intention of going to court but we have no fear of it”.[8]

[edit] Criticism from the music industry

ACS:Law has been criticised by representatives of the music industry. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) said “our view is that legal action is best reserved for the most persistent or serious offenders – rather than widely used as a first response”, adding that they would not be adopting the tactics of ACS:Law.[29]

[edit] Criticism in the House of Lords

On 26 January 2010 Lord Lucas spoke out against the activities of solicitor companies, including ACS:Law, calling it “blackmail” and explaining:

We must also do something about the quantum of damages that is being sought. In a civil procedure on a technical matter, it amounts to blackmail; the cost of defending one of these things is reckoned to be £10,000.[30]

[edit] Attempts to silence Slyck.com

ACS:Law has also been accused of attempting to silence some of their critics.[31] Three major discussion forums were started on Slyck.com in response to ACS:Law’s action; many of the participants of these forums offer legal advice and actively organize against ACS:Law. ACS:Law sent Slyck.com a legal notice claiming defamation and threatening a lawsuit.[31][32]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ ACS:Law Homepage
  2. ^ Dubai beach sex man ‘re-arrested’ BBC News, 22 December 2008
  3. ^ ACS:Law Information The Law Society
  4. ^ Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal findings and order Solicitors Regulation Authority, February 2006: 2006 judgement with summary of 2002 judgement at page 5
  5. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  6. ^ Major law firm drops file sharing threats – Staff continue ‘bullying’ at smaller outfit The Register, 12 May 2009
  7. ^ Law firm hands out thousands of fines to suspected digital pirates T3, 29 November 2009
  8. ^ a b c d e f http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8481790.stm Piracy letter campaign ‘nets innocents’ BBC News, 26 January 2010
  9. ^ a b Being Threatened – Profits from fear See paragraph 4.
  10. ^ “File-Sharing Lawyers To Face Disciplinary Tribunal”. TorrentFreak. http://torrentfreak.com/file-sharing-lawyers-to-face-disciplinary-tribunal-100823/. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  11. ^ http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/09/amounts-to-blackmail-inside-a-p2p-settlement-letter-factory.ars/3
  12. ^ Andrew Crossley insults 4Chan
  13. ^ “Leaked emails fuel anti-piracy scandal”. Wired.co.uk. 2010-09-27. http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-09/27/leaked-emails-fuel-anti-piracy-scandal. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  14. ^ ACS:Law Anti Piracy Law Firm Torn Apart by Leaked Emails
  15. ^ Emery, Daniel (2010-09-27). “Adult video-sharing list leaked from law firm”. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11418962. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  16. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/11430299
  17. ^ Emery, Daniel (2010-09-28). “Fresh ACS:Law file-sharing lists expose thousands more”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11425789. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  18. ^ Emery, Daniel (2010-09-29). “BT embroiled in ACS:Law porn list breach”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11434809. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  19. ^ Lawyers target thousands of ‘illegal’ file-sharers BBC News, 27 November 2009
  20. ^ “ACS:Law copyright file sharing claims, Gallant Macmillan – and probably some others along the way”. Consumeractiongroup.co.uk. 2009-05-07. http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/acs-law/198192-acs-law.html. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  21. ^ More innocent consumers accused of file sharing Which?, 2 July 2009
  22. ^ Innocents accused of net piracy BBC News, 2 July 2009
  23. ^ Halliday, Josh (2010-10-04). “ACS:Law: The view from the accused, and the questions in the courts”. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/oct/01/acslaw-filesharing-accused. Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  24. ^ Tracking the trackers University of Washington Study
  25. ^ “Technology | ISP in file-sharing wi-fi theft”. BBC News. 2009-10-16. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8305379.stm. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  26. ^ UK Game Piracy: Propaganda, Evidence and Damages Torrentfreak, 21 August 2008
  27. ^ Court Order awarded in absence of defendant Dated 3 June 2008
  28. ^ ACS:Law Latest News. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  29. ^ Wakefield, Jane (2010-01-29). “Law firm’s piracy hunt condemned”. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8483482.stm. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  30. ^ Hansard 26 January 2010, Columns 1309-1310
  31. ^ a b Townend, Judith (31 March 2010). “Slyck.com refuses to remove content following legal threats from UK”. journalism.co.uk. http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/538117.php. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 
  32. ^ Legal Threat

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