Another month, another backfire for UK anti-piracy lawyers ACS:Law and their porn client customers. This time the scheme, which sends “legal blackmail” letters to citizens accused of illicit file-sharing, appears to have sucked in David Sullivan, one of Britain’s richest men.
Sullivan, who previously owned the national newspapers the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport and is the current joint-chairman of West Ham United football club, is probably better known as one of the country’s most famous pornographers.
According to information provided to TorrentFreak and by BeingThreatened.com, a consumer group set up to assist those wrongfully accused of infringement by ACS:Law and other lawyers, a shop owned by one of Sullivan’s companies has become an unlikely victim in the ongoing and hugely controversial anti-filesharing scheme.
Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that Sullivan-owned Darker Enterprises Ltd, the company behind the Private chain of sex shops and pornographic outfit Sheptonhurst, applied earlier this year to have one of its sex shop licenses renewed.
“The sex shops operated by the chain must legally be licensed,” explains BeingThreatened spokesman James Bench. “This license must be renewed annually, the criteria are stringent and objections may be submitted by any member of the public based on the grounds set out in Schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.”
But the application didn’t go smoothly. An objection to the granting of the license was received citing several potential grounds for refusal. The first claim stated there had been an attempt to hide the real owners of the applicants in order to obtain a license. The second was that the Private Shops website previously supplied restricted videos via mail contrary to law, but it is the third element that will be of most interest to readers.
“Following the receipt by one north-west council of one such objection – which made direct reference to the scheme, describing it as one which ‘…bullies innocent individuals in respect of alleged file sharing of pornography…’ – Darker Enterprises has withdrawn their renewal application, closed the shop and left the town,” explains Bench.
Darker Enterprises didn’t go quietly though. The company has labeled the objection as “part of a National campaign which is based on half-truth and innuendo”.
“Sheptonhurst Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Darker Enterprises Ltd., was approached, along with a number of companies in the adult film industry, by a firm of solicitors offering to assist in tackling the problem of internet sharing of R18 [videos] on a no-win no-fee basis,” said the company on its connections with ACS:Law.
“There had been concerns for some time not only because of copyright infringement but also because of the likely detrimental effects of uncontrolled circulation of material that should be subject to controls,” they continued.
“The rights of enforcement were assigned to the solicitors concerned by a number of distributors. Once again, this decision was taken at an operational level. David Sullivan did not take part in this decision and, at the time of writing, is not even aware of it,” they added.
But it seems that although only a single shop has been affected at this point, the situation has the potential to snowball.
“The firm has to renew over a hundred licenses annually – a considerable liability. While they may feel that they have already been subject to a national campaign, the scope of their commercial vulnerability may yet become apparent,” explains BeingThreatened’s James Bench.
“In just the next two months license renewals are due in a further dozen towns including Stoke, Newport, Halifax, Bedford, Brent, Stevenage, Woking, Doncaster, Carlisle, Bolton, Brighton and Southampton,” he concludes.
Whether other complaints against those license renewals will be made on similar grounds is yet to be seen, but the huge scale of the scheme operated by ACS:Law means that they have made many thousands of enemies, of which many hundreds have already mobilized against them with endless complaints to a wide range of authorities.