Most higher-tier anti-piracy groups are interested in taking down illegal sites, services and other commercial-scale pirates.
Many of their targets are given multiple warnings before anything terrible happens because ending their piracy is the main goal. If that can be achieved without a legal battle, it’s better for everyone and it’s cheaper for everyone too.
But there are also anti-piracy groups that don’t give warnings and don’t believe in second chances, no matter how small the infringement or how poor the alleged infringer might be. In fact, these groups deliberately target residential internet subscribers and demand hundreds, even thousands of dollars, euros or pounds in compensation – and feel entirely justified doing so because the law allows it.
Public support for these enforcement schemes is comparable to that enjoyed by wheel clampers and ANPR-powered parking fine companies. Even some MPs have said they don’t like them, and they’ve even been criticized in the House of Lords.
The common denominator is the obviously unhealthy power disparity between corporate giants and ordinary internet subscribers, something that is built-in and then reinforced by design. However, there is always someone bigger than the big guys and when they show up, the schadenfreude can be delicious. But before the main course, here’s a small hors d’oeuvre.
The Power of the Limited Liability Partnership
Hatton and Berkeley (H&B) and its partners have been demanding cash settlements from UK internet subscribers for years. Its settlement model was initially quite ordinary but when it began promoting Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) as an anti-piracy “insurance wrapper“, the projection of power was obvious.
The plan presented by H&B envisioned the use of LLP corporate structures to protect businesses involved in settlement campaigns, ensuring that if things went bad for them litigation-wise, any financial liability could be pre-planned and minimal.
In short, fortified corporate trenches should be dug to defend against financially insecure and legally-unaware members of the public. H&B Administration LLP was ready to step up a gear but what followed next was perhaps more surprising.
FACT Administration LLP
In September 2019, FACT Worldwide Limited – a company operated by Federation Against Copyright Theft chief Kieron Sharp – became a member of H&B Administration LLP. Even to admiring critics, that came as a big disappointment.
Due to its very nature, FACT’s work has at times been controversial but its solid reputation is built on decades of painstaking work in complex and high-profile commercial-scale piracy cases. Cash settlement models targeting the public with expensive ‘speeding tickets’ seemed a particularly poor fit.
Nevertheless, in 2020 Sharp also joined the LLP as a named member and in 2021, H&B Administration LLP changed its name to FACT Administration LLP. It soon began pressuring internet subscribers for cash settlements on behalf of its movie company members and later added a scary payment portal warning of potential criminal action, as well as civil.
Protective Wrappers Are Subject to the Law
But while LLPs might have protective qualities, they aren’t encased in a lawless bubble. Operating an LLP triggers responsibilities including statutory reporting requirements. These are laid down by the government and when ignored, escalating levels of otherwise avoidable trouble can lie ahead.
For example, should an LLP fail to submit its confirmation statement on time, the government doesn’t get immediately upset. If we use the document below as an example, the statement date is April 11, 2022, and it’s completely acceptable to submit one before April 25.
Taking longer, however, means the addition of big red text on a previously clean record.
Of course, it’s human to forget things so the government is very good these days in that it can send a reminder before the statement is actually due – a friendly ‘pre-infringement notice’ of sorts. It’s a very reasonable way to remind people that legal obligations aren’t being met.
But even that isn’t enough to get some corporations going. Before they have time to shout “protective wrapper” and demand £800, several months have passed and perhaps the most basic and cheap of all company filings still hasn’t been done.
Quite why that’s the case here is anyone’s guess. Anti-piracy groups always seem so particular about the law when it comes to the actions of other people. When alleging infringement, for example, they sometimes suggest that internet subscribers who aren’t the infringer failed in their “duty of care” by not anticipating what someone else might privately do on their connection, at some indeterminable point in the future.
If they’d had the luxury of an official reminder in advance, detailing specific dates and legal requirements, and that was followed by several polite warnings after, you could probably see their point. But for settlement targets, that never happens. No warnings, no chances. Give us money.
More Warnings Incoming
Thankfully, people who run LLPs do get polite reminders and then warnings about their failure to comply with their legal obligations. Earlier this week a notice appeared on the FACT Administration LLP page on Companies House, announcing that if it persists with its non-compliance, things could get very serious indeed.
“The Registrar of Companies gives notice that, unless cause is shown to the contrary, the Limited Liability Partnership will be struck off the register and dissolved not less than 2 months from the date shown above [28/06/2022],” it reads.
“Upon the Limited Liability Partnership’s dissolution, all property and rights vested in, or held in trust for, the Limited Liability Partnership are deemed to be bona vacantia, and will belong to the Crown.”
This notice represents yet another warning to comply with the law after months and months of non-compliance. But here we are several days later and still nothing has been done. Some ‘duties of care’ are less important than others, it seems.
As a result, this week FACT Administration LLP was featured free of charge in Britain’s oldest newspaper – The Gazette. It’s much less ‘fun’ than the country’s tabloids but easily competes with the ‘red tops’ when it comes to scandals, even while striving for reporting accuracy.
“Not filing your confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is a criminal offense – and directors or LLP designated members could be personally fined in the criminal courts,” UK Government advice reads.
“Failing to pay your late filing penalty can result in enforcement proceedings. Any criminal proceedings for not filing confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is separate from (and in addition to) any late filing penalties issued by Companies House against the company.”
But of course, despite all the loud words and threats of dissolving the LLP and giving the LLP’s assets to the Crown, it’s unlikely that anything terrible will happen. There are no immediate financial penalties for filing a late confirmation statement and no matter how badly things go, it’s nearly always possible to get a company back on track eventually.
Another plus side is that filing a confirmation statement is both easy and ridiculously cheap – just £13. However, if people can’t spare 20 minutes and have money to burn (perhaps alleged pirates donated generously lately) a familiar company with an address in Mayfair, London, says it will do it for just £125. Probably best to send a few reminders, though, just in case.
Finally, reminders might also be needed in respect of US-based company TCYK LLC. Its movie – ‘The Company You Keep’ – featured in cash settlement letters initially sent out in 2015, including one sent to an 82-year-old grandmother.
The problem is that despite being listed as an active member of FACT Administration LLP, corporate data in the United States shows that the company has been dissolved leading to the possibility that doesn’t exist. Companies House doesn’t appear to have been informed about that but in a few months, perhaps someone will let them know.
FACT Administration LLP structure facing strike off
Current person/entity with significant control: Hatton & Berkeley Management Ltd (Director: Robert Croucher, 75%+ shareholder 1)
Members, countries of incorporation (where applicable), plus sources/connections
Robert Croucher (UK) 1,2
Kieron Sharp (UK) 1,2
Oliver Williams (UK) 1,2
After 2 Movie LLC (USA) 1,2
After 34 Nevada LLC (USA) 1,2
Azil Productions LLC (USA) 1,2
Cinestate Run Hide Fight LLC (USA) 1,2
FACT Worldwide Ltd (UK) 1,2
H Films Inc. (USA) 1,2
Hatton & Berkeley Management Ltd (UK) 1,2
Icon Film Distribution Ltd (UK) 1,2
Right Angle Productions LLC (USA) 1,2
TCYK LLC (USA) 1,2 (dissolved)
Voltage Holdings LLC (USA) 1,2
Wonder One LLC (USA) 1,2
Former member/notable resignation:
Copyright Management Services Ltd (Patrick Achache – also Maverickeye/Guardaley)