Back in 2007 when law firm Davenport Lyons went to the press with news of their “landmark” court victory against a woman they accused of illicit file-sharing, they had high hopes of great things to follow.
The case, which turned out to be something of a damp squib, was the metaphorical head-on-a-pike the company needed to kick-start a new scheme.
The plan was simple enough. Capture IP-addresses of alleged file-sharers, discover their identities through the courts and send them letters demanding money to make non-existent court cases and huge fines go away. Profit.
However, with the help of online forums and consumer groups like Which? and BeingThreatened.com, letter recipients mounted an impressive fight back. Instead of continuing ahead unhindered, Davenport Lyons found themselves the subject of a Solicitors Regulatory Authority investigation. The SRA later referred the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
That hearing will go ahead in May next year, but thanks to papers seen by the Solicitors Journal, today we have a sneak preview of the claims being made against partners David Gore and Brian Miller.
According to the SRA, Gore and Miller – who have since left the company – were responsible for litigating against thousands of Internet users they claim were illegal file-sharers, even though they were aware that they had no reliable evidence to support their claims.
“Each of the respondents knew that in conducting generic campaigns against those identified as IP holders whose IP numeric had been used for downloading or uploading of material that they might in such generic campaigns be targeting people innocent of any copyright breach,” says the SRA’s statement.
Interestingly, although Davenport Lyons and their copyright-holding partners in this business such as Topware, DigiProtect, CodeMasters, Reality Pump, Techland and Atari were all in these schemes together and knew precisely how they operate, the SRA has decided that Gore and Miller put the interests of Davenport Lyons before the interests of their clients.
By sending out letters to people they knew could be innocent, Gore and Miller disregarded the harm their actions could have on their clients’ reputations. This constituted a breach of the Solicitors Code of Conduct say the SRA. For those familiar with how these schemes operate, the irony here is overwhelming.
Furthermore, as has become apparent in recent months through various leaked documents, around 20 to 35% of letter recipients paid Davenport Lyons the money they asked for. The SRA claims that Gore and Miller encouraged litigation in order to secure revenue for their company.
Referring to a letter Davenport Lyons sent to one of its clients where it was discussed how money would be shared, the SRA statement says: “The reference to ‘revenue share’ indicates that the respondents were regarding the scheme which they were operating as a revenue generating scheme.”
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing will go ahead in May 2011 and will last for 7 days. ACS:Law owner Andrew Crossley will be watching more closely than most – the date when he has to face the Tribunal is yet to be decided.