UK Lawyers Promise First Court Action Against File-Sharers

Since 2007, the UK has seen thousands of postal threats to take alleged file-sharers to court. But aside from getting default judgments against a handful easy targets who didn't try to defend themselves, the majority of threats have come to nothing. Lawyers ACS:Law are now promising to step up to the mark and bring their first court cases in Britain.

In 2007, UK lawyers Davenport Lyons (DL) appeared on the anti-piracy (revenue generation) scene. Their clients employed anti-piracy tracking companies like Logistep to gather IP-addresses of users allegedly sharing video games, and used this info to get court orders to force ISPs to hand over their names and addresses.

The next phase was to write to the individuals and threaten them with legal action, unless they paid several hundred pounds. Some panicked and paid up, most did not. Only a handful of these cases actually went to court and DL won them all, because the individuals didn’t defend themselves.

After masses of bad publicity peaking in a controversy over gay porn, Davenport Lyons appeared to have had enough, and withdrew from this business model to limit the damage to their brand and reputation.

In May, new kid on the block ACS:Law appeared and promptly took over where DL left off, and again, hundreds – maybe thousands – of threatening letters went out, demanding cash payment from alleged file-sharers. But this time things wouldn’t be quite so easy for the lawyers and their clients.

The scheme wasn’t new anymore and various support structures for letter recipients flourished, including forums and dedicated sites such as the excellent BeingThreatened.com. Due to the increased knowledge and awareness brought about through news articles such as those read here on TorrentFreak and on the aforementioned platforms, pay-up rates from those accused fell to as little as 15%, as it became clear that the chances of actually being taken to court were minimal.

But now, after months of being told to “put up or shut up”, it seems that ACS:Law are, if they are to be believed, about to flex their legal muscles and actually litigate against certain individuals. They need their symbolic “head on a pike” to ensure the overall pay up rates make the scheme worthwhile.

“The first batch [of] claims have been prepared and were filed at court on Friday, 4 September 2009. Service of the proceedings will be made by first class post and will be with defendants by Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at the very latest,” the company said in a statement, adding, “The second batch of defendants will be selected on Monday, 14 September 2009.”

While many recipients may have ignored previous correspondence from ACS:Law or DL, individuals receiving documents in the post today or tomorrow (presuming the threats actually come to something) are strongly advised not to ignore them, especially if they are court documents.

Failure to respond to court documents could result in a default judgment being issued in the future and this could prove very costly indeed – possibly mounting to several thousand pounds.

So what should recipients of court documents do? Firstly it would be prudent to seek legal advice – Lawdit Solicitors can offer advice and guidance since they have been assisting people against these claims for some time now, but any lawyer with a sound knowledge of copyright issues will prove invaluable.

For those individuals who maintain they are innocent, a vigorous defense can be mounted against any allegations. In the majority of cases, all ACS:Law will have as evidence is an IP address harvested by an untested system in a foreign country, and that may not be enough to prove their case.

Indeed, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) recently told Which?, “We’re not convinced of the efficacy of the software and not confident in its ability to identify users.”

However, ACS:Law will select potential defendants very carefully and will likely focus on individuals with the weakest cases, have compromised or damaged their defense in some way, or have chosen not to respond to previous letters.

If you receive court documents in connection with an ACS:Law case during the next few days, do not panic. Please feel free to get in touch with us here at TorrentFreak in complete confidence. Your privacy will not be breached and we will point you in the right direction.

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