Saga continues after porn pirates firm folds

The firm pursuing ­thousands of individuals for ­illegally downloading adult films has gone out of business, despite the case still being ongoing.


Judge Birss
Judge Birss

ACS:Law, which hit the headlines in September 2010 when details of those it was pursuing appeared on a website (The Lawyer, 28 September 2010), closed on 31 ­January.

But on 8 February Judge Birss QC in the Patents County Court rejected an attempt to ­discontinue the cases, even though ACS:Law is no longer instructed and its client Media CAT, which has been declared insolvent, told the judge it would not “at any time in the future be sending letters or pursuing anyone in relation to the alleged infringements of copyright”.

The outcome is seen as a victory for the 27 defendants facing copyright infringement claims.

The firms acting for the defendants, Ralli Solicitors and Lawdit Solicitors, are now pursuing the claimants for costs, and there will be a further hearing on 16 March.

The saga began in 2007 when Davenport Lyons began sending letters to individuals suspected of ­illegally filesharing video games and adult films. However, the firm dropped the cases in May 2009.

It was at that point that ACS:Law, a small firm run by solicitor Andrew Crossley, became involved. Birss J said ACS:Law’s client Media CAT had signed an agreement with Sheptonhurst, the copyright owner for the pornographic films that had allegedly been downloaded illegally.

Media CAT obtained details of IP addresses linked to illegal downloads and, following a Chancery Division order, gained the names and addresses of the people linked to those IP addresses from internet service providers.

ACS:Law then wrote ­letters to “tens of thousands” of potential defendants demanding £495 from each as compensation for the downloads.

The judge said that those who knew they had been infringing Sheptonhurst’s copyright would probably have settled immediately. However, “ordinary members of the public” also received letters.
Birss J revealed: “This court’s office has had ­telephone calls from people in tears having received correspondence from ACS:Law on behalf of Media CAT.”

Following the letter-­writing campaign, Media CAT filed only 27 cases in the Patents County Court.

In January Crossley told the court office he wanted to discontinue all 27 cases and then reissue them. At a hearing on 17 January it emerged that ACS:Law was receiving 65 per cent of the revenue generated from the campaign.

Lawdit founder Michael Coyle told The Lawyer that, based on the number of his clients who had paid their £495, he thought ACS:Law would have made well over £1m from the proceedings.

At the hearing Hogarth Chambers’ Guy Tritton, instructed by Ralli, submitted that ACS:Law’s conduct brought the legal process and the solicitors’ profession into disrepute. Birss J refused to make a wasted costs order against ACS:Law as neither the firm nor counsel Tim Ludbrook of 13 Old Square had had an opportunity to deal with the point.

Despite Crossley informing the court on 24 January that he was withdrawing from the actions, Birss J refused to grant the notices of discontinuance as he felt these were an abuse of the court process.

He said: “The advantage of discontinuing as opposed to applying to amend is unwarranted ­in that it avoids judicial scrutiny of the underlying basis for the wider campaign ­orchestrated by Media CAT and ACS:Law to generate revenue under the various agreements such as the Sheptonhurst agreement.”

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 was pursuing its misconduct case against Crossley. Cases against the two partners who were ­pursuing similar claims at Davenport Lyons are expected to go to a ­tribunal hearing in May.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner confirmed that the body was also continuing an investigation into a data leak at ACS:Law that resulted in the details of potential defendants appearing online.