Ever since they first reared their heads in the UK file-sharing sphere, lawyers ACS:Law have been raising eyebrows. The tiny law firm, which took over the business of chasing alleged file-sharers from Davenport Lyons, have been steeped in controversy, making countless false accusations, misleading statements and even committing copyright infringement themselves. They have even recently dropped many cases because they were going nowhere.
Although there has been some mainstream news coverage in the past, this week the press have really stepped up, helped along by the UK Lords who labeled the ACS:Law scheme “legal blackmail” – not exactly a shining endorsement.
Nevertheless, ACS:Law owner Andrew Crossley has stood his ground, telling the media that his campaign will continue. Following criticism that so far he has taken a grand total of zero cases to court, Crossley told the BBC that cases are pending.
“It has been said that we have no intention of going to court but we have no fear of it,” he said.
While Crossley may not be scared of taking a couple of cut and dried cases of infringement against minnows to court to prove his point, it’s not entirely true that in all cases he has no fear of a court battle. In the words of the Lords, Crossley is engaged in a bullying scheme and, like all bullies, when the big boys step up to fight, the bullies shrink away.
On November 19th at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Crossley made NPO (Norwich Pharmacal Order) applications to force ISPs to hand over the names and addresses of subscribers the company claims had infringed their client’s rights. The NPO’s related to approximately 25,000 IP addresses harvested from UK ISP BT’s customer base and a further 5,000 from various other ISPs, covering approximately 291 movie titles. The order was granted and ACS:Law are now chasing these individuals for cash payments of around £500 each.
Someone present at the hearing provided TorrentFreak with information which suggested that several ISPs including Be, O2, BT, Plusnet, Enternet and Kingston were not opposed to the court order forcing them to hand over their customers’ private details to ACS:Law.
However, UK ISP Tiscali, whose customers had also been caught up in the ACS:Law dragnet, were strangely dropped from the court order. “Not seeking against Tiscali (previously respondent #8 in the application),” said the comment.
Tiscali were bought by TalkTalk for £236m last year. TalkTalk, as everyone must know by now, are absolutely against elements of the Digital Economy Bill and are refusing to sell their customers down the river on mere allegations of file-sharing. Could they be standing up to ACS:Law too?
We contacted TalkTalk and their response proved very interesting indeed.
“TalkTalk is the only major ISP which has refused to divulge customers’ information to lawyers pursuing alleged copyright infringers. We have held this position since the issue came into view and we continue to stick by this policy,” Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk’s executive director of strategy and regulation told TorrentFreak.
“If we are ever ‘instructed’ to disconnect or throttle a customer who has not been found guilty in a court of law, we will refuse to do so and challenge the instruction through the courts if necessary,” he added.
So, while the above-mentioned ISPs – and BT in particular – are collectively handing over thousands of their customers to be “legally blackmailed” by ACS:Law, TalkTalk will not and are prepared to fight for the rights of their customers.
TorrentFreak contacted BeingThreatened, a consumer group assisting those wrongfully accussed by ACS:Law.
“What the public want to see is a clear commitment from ISPs that they will protect their customers from the actions of these overly-litigious lawyers exploiting legal loopholes to demand money using groundless threats of court action. Given the tens of thousands of letters that have already been sent and the massive heartache caused as a result of this scheme, BeingTheatened would expect to see a concrete commitment from all ISPs,” spokesman James Bench told us.
“After all, TalkTalk’s stated position merely reflects the view of the wider industry (as stated by the ISPA) that the ‘evidence’ presented by these companies is unreliable,” he added.
“We are happy to see that one company has indicated an apparent willingness to display a degree of corporate integrity in looking after the data that its customers entrust to it and not to make this available to anyone that simply asks for it,” he concluded.
So, if you and your family are looking for an ISP run by people who are prepared stand up for your rights, look no further than TalkTalk. While Mr Crossley may not fear going to court against a lowly individual, it seems incredibly unlikely that he’ll take on TalkTalk’s lawyers.