On September 24, 2010, at approximately 10 AM EST, the root directory of the ACS:Law website was exposed. Among the files publicly available was a backup of the site, which was subsequently downloaded by hundreds of curious visitors. Within this backup file was an email database of ACS:Law, containing months worth of all kinds of correspondence between ACS:Law and suspected file-sharers, ISPs, interoffice memos, and personal emails. It has proven to be a treasure-trove of information, providing valuable intelligence on just how weak the copyright trolling business is.
Background on the Leak
Several weeks prior to the email leak, a movement called “Operation: Payback is a Bitch” was initiated. The goal of the organizers, many of which originated from 4chan, was to DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) organizations that targeted file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay. Starting in early September, DoS attacks were launched against the MPAA, RIAA and the controversial and much maligned UK law firm, ACS:Law. These sites experienced various amounts of downtime, but generally within a day or less they were again operational.
In response to the attack on ACS:Law’s website, sole solicitor Andrew Crossley made several fateful comments. Addressing the initial attack, Crossley told The Register it was, “typical rubbish from pirates…Big whoop”.
“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.”
Those comments infuriated the members of Operation: Payback – many of which go by the designation “Anonymous”. A new round of DoS attacks was initiated on or about September 22nd, which caused a prolonged period of downtime for ACS:Law’s website. While hindsight is always 20/20, this secondary attack would’ve never occurred if Mr. Crossley had never made the above statement.
In a bungled attempt to bring the site back online, ACS:Law’s web host reactivated the site, but didn’t position a home page (or suspend the account). There was nothing to prevent visitors from viewing, and downloading, the exposed root directory.
Frailty of Evidence
The ACS:Law email database leak provided a disheartening look at just how frail the evidence used against file-sharers is. First case in point is the rather humorous exchange between a suspected file-sharer and ACS:Law. Andrew Crossley had accused the individual of using Vuze 22.214.171.124 on July 19, 2009 – however, interestingly enough this version had yet to be released.
“Leaving aside the whole issue of your apparent lack of evidence […] you allege use of a BitTorrent client, Vuze, version 126.96.36.199 on 19th July 2009. Unfortunately, Vuze 188.8.131.52 was only released on the 27th August 2009 (as can be seen on the Vuze project site at SourceForge) some 5 and a half weeks later. I would be absolutely fascinated by your explanation of this discrepancy! As I’m sure you’ll agree, this error does rather discredit your evidence […] unless perhaps you are going to stipulate that time travel is, in fact, possible? I look forward to your response”
Because of the poor data gathering techniques of their IP investigation services, the case against this individual was dropped. Humorous indeed, but this pointed to a much bigger problem for ACS:Law – the quality of evidence used against suspected file-sharers. And that brings us to the main event – when ACS:Law legal adviser Adam Glen discusses with Andrew just how weak IP evidence is. In an email dated August 19, 2010, Adam Glen goes into detail on the Davaneport Lyons’ Barwinska case. As you’ll recall, this is only case where the courts ruled against a file-sharing defendant – but only because the defendant never showed up in court.
“Because of all of these factors I believe that it would be extremely difficult to establish with any accuracy that there has been sharing except with the monitoring system which is an action by the infringer for which no damages can be accrued.”
The entire operation at ACS:Law appears to be hanging on by a thread financially. Unless people pay up and submit to the demands, there’s no cash flow for ACS:Law. Although ACS:Law does appear to bring in a slight margin of profit, a lengthy court case could derail the entire system and bankrupt Andrew Crossley. Andrew seems acutely aware of this, telling his legal counselor, “Presently I feel defeated by it and feel I should shut up shop, which will cause me to go bankrupt for certain…”
Could you imagine if everyone who received a letter told Andrew to get stuffed?
Well, it seems that day has come.
A few weeks ago, Slyck.com sent out a global message asking residents of the United Kingdom if they have received a letter post-September 24, 2010. Amazingly enough, ACS:Law is still sending out letters – perhaps as a desperate last stand. We received many responses, and as we suspected, residents of the United Kingdom are educating themselves on just how close to the edge ACS:Law is. We’ll share some snippets of their responses – and it doesn’t bode well for ACS:Law. Smelling blood in the water, in one loud voice recipients are telling Andrew & co what they can do with their legal threats.
“…oh i’m sending them a letter (nicely worded) telling them where they can stuff it… possibly with diagrams in case they get confused…”
“2nd LoD received today. Dated [removed] Oct. Asking for [amount removed] within 14 days as they can’t accept a template letter. If proceedings are issued, they’ll file for £1k damages as well.”
“Didn’t do it, going to send second LoD telling them that my letter is valid, refer to 1st letter and trust this settles the matter for good.”
“…the first letter I received was dated [removed] September (was just back from holiday to this nice surprize) the second was dated [removed] October. Thanks to your site for all the info on these , I have just sent my second LOD (due to the fact that they sent back the second letter saying it was no good because it was a template).I had hand written the second one saying that I wasn’t going to pay and any further letters I wasn’t going to respond.”
Recipient 4: This individual had offered to settle for a reduced rate. ACS:Law rejected the offer, “…instead stated that they where, ‘disinclined’ to accept my response as it is a template. So basically they sent me a template letter of their own, with no mention of my attempt to resolve the matter, telling me that they were not accepting my template letter.
“There is no way I will pay for something I didn’t do. I have also asked my solicitor to investigate the possibility of pursuing ACS Law for leaking my personal information onto the internet.”
“I have received my 2nd letter from this stinking firm today.It is in response to an edited Letter Of Denial template I sent them in September. The pricks have the nerve to tell me that they are inclined to not accept my explanation of innocence because I have used a template, yet they have responded with a template!!!”
“…I have no intention of paying them a penny as I have not done what they claim.”
Even if only 5 people refuse to pay up – and we’re talking very very conservatively here – a world of problems are about to confront ACS:Law. We already know that ACS:Law casts a large net, sifts through their catch and only pursues those who give in. Those who could potentially buck their system are dropped (like the individual using Vuze mentioned above). With the public now firmly against Andrew Crossley and fully knowledgeable of his tactics, there’s likely little hope of a financial future at ACS:Law.