The Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords during May 2016.
Among other things, the draft legislation (pdf) aims to protect companies and individuals from threats of expensive IP litigation where no infringement has taken place.
While aimed largely at patents, trademarks and other design rights, during a Lords Grand Committee hearing yesterday the hot topic of unfounded threats against Internet users was thrust onto the agenda. Lord Lucas, who previously tackled the infamous ACS:Law, was again at the forefront.
“The world is full of people who like to play a junior game of what this bill addresses. A few years ago I had a small role in the demise of ACS Solicitors which were thankfully sacked by the law society,” Lord Lucas began.
“They were shaking down Internet users for allegedly infringing copyright on pornography and other low grade media. Their evidence was extremely suspect and was never tested in court. ACS made its money from their threats and never took anyone to court, though it used the courts to target its victims via Norwich Pharmacal Orders.”
But while ACS:Law is well and truly dead, others in the UK have now resumed shaking down Internet account holders with the aim of securing fast cash settlements. From his speech yesterday it’s abundantly clear that Lord Lucas is unhappy at this unwelcome development.
“Some careless person has dropped blood onto the ashes of ACS and the same scam is alive again. The same thin evidence. They have an IP address, they have not revealed how they get that IP address. But, given that IP address, they go through the same Norwich Pharmacal [ISP disclosure] procedure,” he told those assembled in the Moses Room, the main venue for grand committees.
Lord Lucas in the House of Lords yesterday
As has become clear during the past few years, companies involved in so-called Speculative Invoicing in the UK have learned from ACS:Law’s mistakes. Probably quite sensibly (they tend to feel the wrath of the Solicitors Regulatory Authority) no lawyers are involved in the threats being made to Internet subscribers. This fact has not escaped Lord Lucas.
“This time, to remove the vulnerability that ACS found, the solicitor involved, Wagner and Co, withdraws after obtaining the Norwich Pharmacal Order, so they’re not involved in the threat processes which are undertaken by shell companies. There doesn’t seem to be any redress for people threatened or for ISPs who are asked to comply with Norwich Pharmacal orders,” he said.
Up until this point no live companies had been named, but there would be no escape. A well-briefed Lord Lucas covered them all and had some advice for anyone whose path they cross.
“If anybody comes across the names of Hatton and Berkeley, RangerBay, GoldenEye International, Mircom International and TCYK …I really urge them to put [their correspondence] in the bin. The current scammers aren’t pursuing anyone [in court] they’re just after threats, and extortion, and shaking people down,” he said.
“I applaud our government for helping businesses avoid unjustified threats but I would really like to know what they intend to do to help the granny [accused by TCYK recently] who is being threatened by their smaller, nastier cousins with allegations that she has been downloading illegally.”
Describing the companies above as “villains laughing at and abusing the system”, Lord Lucas called for citizens to be given the ability to respond to trolls with a “sue or desist” letter, which would render any further threats (short of court action) punishable by law.
“Wouldn’t that be a good right for citizens who are being threatened in any circumstances?” he said.
Joe Hickster, the administrator of troll-watching site ACS:Bore, welcomes Lord Lucas’ comments.
“Lord Lucas has lent legitimacy and sobriety to a cause of much concern for those in receipt of letters from the likes of Hatton & Berkeley, Goldeneye International, Ranger Bay, TCYK and Mircom,” Hickster told TF.
“This may be a real turning point in the fight against copyright trolling in the UK. With the ISPA shortlisting TCYK as ‘Internet Villain of the Year’ this week, lets hope this intervention from Lord Lucas will embolden them to send guidance to their members, to stand up and say NO! to these trolls.”
Only time will tell how the government will react to Lord Lucas’ calls, but more than ever something needs to be done to force the UK’s copyright trolls to either put up, or shut up.