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The long-running attempt by ACS:Law to sue individuals accused of illegally sharing adult movies online has ended after the firm ceased trading.
In a judgment handed down this afternoon in the Patents County Court Judge Birss QC strongly criticised the litigation and the way in which ACS:Law and its founder Andrew Crossley had handled the case.
Meanwhile, Crossley has closed the firm down less than a month after telling the judge he was abandoning the cases after receiving death threats.
The judgment suggests that ACS:Law made over £1m from pursuing the claims on behalf of its client MediaCAT. Giving an account of the case Judge Birss said ACS:Law had written to “tens of thousands of individuals” alleging they had infringed copyright by downloading pornographic films and claiming £495 from each as compensation.
The judge commented that many members of the public would have paid up.
“Some people will be tempted to pay, regardless of whether they think they’ve actually done anything, simply because of the desire to avoid embarrassment and publicity given that the allegation is about pornography,” he said. “Others may take the view that it all looks and sounds very official and rather than conduct a legal fight they cannot afford, they’ll pay £495.”
An agreement between Media CAT and the copyright owners Sheptonhurst stated that 65 per cent of all revenues generated would go to ACS:Law. Judge Birss said that while this figure could not be confirmed the “sums involved must be considerable”.
Michael Coyle, founder of Southampton firm Lawdit, who acted for several defendants, said he believed the £1m figure would be accurate.
Judge Birss said he had considered making an order preventing Media CAT from issuing more proceedings, but as the company had been declared insolvent this was not necessary.
Instead he set aside notices filed by Media CAT to discontinue the case and said: “I will hear counsel as to whether in the circumstances as they now are there if anything would be served in requiring Media CAT to apply to join the copyright owners.”
A spokesperson for defendant solicitors Ralli said the cases were stayed until 16 March. The claimants must discontinue within two weeks if they wish to do so.
Ralli and Lawdit are both applying for costs orders against ACS:Law. Coyle said he expected the judge to decide on costs in the near future.
In an emailed statement Crossley confirmed he had closed down ACS:Law and informed the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Crossley said he would not comment further.
A spokesperson for the SRA said it had not yet received notification that the firm had closed. The spokesperson added that it was pursuing its misconduct case against Crossley.