Over the last couple of years everyone has got used to hearing about UK lawyers Davenport Lyons and their campaigns against those it accuses of illicit file-sharing. Now everyone will have to get used to a new player – they’re called ACS Law and the similarities to Davenport are raising more than a few eyebrows.
A little bit of history. UK lawyers Davenport Lyons burst onto the anti-piracy enforcement/revenue generation scheme in 2007, a story originally broken here on TorrentFreak. Their clients – all second or third rate publishers – employed anti-piracy tracking companies like Logistep to enter BitTorrent or eD2k swarms of people sharing their titles and harvest IP addresses. These IP addresses were then filtered by country (to isolate the ones from the UK) and the corresponding ISPs identified. Then Davenport Lyons – by way of a Norwich Pharamacal Order – got a court to force the ISPs to hand over the names and addresses of the alleged file-sharers to them.
The next step was to write to the individuals and threaten them with legal action, unless an amount ranging from £450 to £700 was paid. Somewhere between 40 and 60% of recipients panicked and paid up, while the rest engaged in ‘letter tennis’ with Davenport, corresponding back and forth and getting nowhere – literally – those who stood their ground have not been taken to court.
Of course, due to the weakness in their system and poor evidence gathered against alleged file-sharers, it wasn’t long before Davenport accused the wrong people of file-sharing, including pensioners erroneously accused of downloading gay porn. One of Davenport’s clients, Atari, found it all too much, and withdrew from chasing file-sharers through the company. The mountain of bad publicity continued to grow culminating in the respected consumer magazine Which? reporting Davenport Lyons to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. Then everything went a little quiet. Until this week.
During the last few days more letters, almost identical to the ones sent out by Davenport Lyons, have been dropping onto doormats around the UK. The claims go through all the usual legal jargon but amount to the same – give us between £550 and £750 or we will take you to court.
The letters are sent out by a company called ACS Law, who can be found on the web via their website. According to the site, the partners at ACS Law are Andrew Crossley and Nicola Beale. Many specialties are listed for the pair, but copyright law is not one of them.
Some of the company’s clients are listed on the site – games publishers Reality Pump, Techland, Topware and German ‘porn-protectors’ Digiprotect – and all of them are previous (or maybe even existing) clients of Davenport Lyons. The titles being ‘protected’ by ACS Law on behalf of these companies are the exact same titles previously ‘protected’ by Davenport Lyons. One could be forgiven in thinking these companies are connected, particularly since much of ACS’s documentation sent to the public and listed on their website is ‘cut and pasted’ from Davenport Lyons documentation. They even have a Microsoft Word document entitled Notes on Evidence, which was created on a version of Word actually registered to Davenport Lyons.
During our research some interesting things came up. Andrew Crossley, a partner at ACS Law (who recently defended the Dubai ‘sex on the beach‘ case), lists his email address on most issues unconnected to these anti-piracy cases as firstname.lastname@example.org – note the .co.uk part in the domain.
However, ACS-Law.co.uk as listed on the Law Society website is not the website address given to anti-piracy cases – that is ACS-Law.ORG.UK - and it was registered just weeks ago. Delving into the WHOIS information for the site reveals that the domain is not registered to ACS Law, but to one Terence Tsang. This same Mr Tsang is a known cyber-squatter who has previously locked horns and lost domain disputes with Morgan Stanley and others.
Of course, we sent Andrew Crossley at ACS Law an email (to both the .co.uk and .org.uk addresses) and gave him an opportunity to respond. We asked several questions (listed in summary below) but as yet we’ve received no response. When (if) ACS Law respond, we’ll publish their answers. In the meantime, recipients of letters should not worry and certainly shouldn’t feel hurried in responding to these allegations. Good starting advice can be found here along with a discussion thread here.
1. What is your connection with Davenport Lyons?
2. Why are you servicing so many (ex?) Davenport Lyons clients?
3. Why does ACS Law have two web presences – ACS-Law.co.uk and ACS-Law.org.uk?
4. Why is ACS-Law.org.uk owned by a known cyber-squatter and not your company?
5. How many of these cases against alleged file-sharers do you intend to pursue and who is on your client list?
6. These cases got hugely messy for Davenport Lyons and it’s only a matter of time
before ACS Law accuses a pensioner or child of downloading porn, or makes other errors. Are you concerned that you, your partner and/or your company will be bought into disrepute by taking these cases on?
7. If your client’s aim is to reduce copyright infringement (rather than simply generating revenue from it), why not give us a list of all the titles you ‘protect’ and we’ll publish them, to warn people away from downloading them?
8. Around the web, the specialties of the ACS Law partners can be found, but copyright law is not listed as one of them – why is that?
9. Considering your approach to these cases is almost (if not) identical to that of Davenport Lyons, do you anticipate contact from Which? and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in the coming months? If not, why not?
Stay tuned for updates!