Innocent people are getting letters from lawyers claiming they should pay for films they've never seen.
A Hertfordshire couple in their 60s were horrified to receive a letter last week from lawyers at Davenport Lyons accusing them of
downloading a hardcore gay porn movie. It demanded they pay £503 for copyright infringement or face a high court action. The 20-page pre-settlement letter from Davenport Lyons, acting on behalf of German pornogaphers, insisted they
pay £503 to their clients for the 115 minute film Army Fuckers which features Gestapo officers and Czech farmers.
The bewildered couple contacted Guardian Money. We were offended by the title of the film. We don't do
porn - straight or gay - and we can't do downloads. We have to ask our son even to do an iTunes purchase.
But this Hertfordshire couple are not alone. A large number of people have received this letter, provoking a massive outcry on web
forums such as slyck.com and torrentfreak which estimate 25,000 of these letters have been sent out. If all the recipients paid up, it would net £12.5m - more than almost any porn film has made.
Media expert Michael Coyle at
Southampton-based solicitors Lawdit, is fighting on behalf of individuals who have received the letter from Davenport Lyons. Owners of films, music and computer games obviously have to protect their rights and prevent illegal copying, otherwise
everyone would get all sorts of content for free.
"But many of these letters have been sent to people who have no idea what a download is. We've had straight pensioners complain, and a mother who had the shock of having to question her
14-year-old son about gay porn because he was the only apparent user of the internet connection that was registered to her.
Coyle says Davenport Lyons represent DigiProtect, a German company with rights to both pornographic films. He
questions the amount demanded and methods used to identify computers alleged to have downloaded material. He believes the sum demanded is out of all proportion to the alleged injury. In one case, Davenport Lyons wanted £500 for a £20 game.
The alleged file-sharing would have cost only about £50 - the rest is legal costs.
Coyle offers a £50 service for those who refuse to cave in to the demands as he believes some of the firm's successes are due to consumers paying
up because they cannot afford the legal costs of defending themselves. They have won court cases including a high-profile £16,000 on a games download. But these have not been defended. My advice is to deny file sharing to any such request.
Consumer magazine Which? has complained to the solicitors' watchdog about a London law firm that sent bullying letters to hundreds of innocent consumers.
Davenport Lyons has been hunting for internet users who it believes have
illegally shared copies of video games and gay pornography. The alleged file-sharers received letters from the law firm demanding payment of £500 compensation for copyright infringement.
However, letters sent out rely on IP addresses and
with so many unsecured wireless networks and file sharing sites which spoof IP addresses, serious questions are being asked about the validity of evidence put forward by Davenport Lyons, evidence already discredited by at least two other European
The case was featured on BBC's Watchdog programme this week, and both Watchdog and The Real Hustle have highlighted the relative ease with which many home networks can be breached. Many of those wrongly accused by
Davenport Lyons say that their claims of innocence are ignored completely and simply followed with continued demands for money.
Michael Coyle, solicitor advocate with Lawdit who is currently representing hundreds of UK citizens who have received
threatening letters, says that using IP addresses alone to pinpoint file sharers is a nonsense and that Davenport Lyons are using heavy-handed tactics.
Which? has written to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority complaining about what
it describes as bullying and excessive , pointing out that during a recession, more and more companies will be looking to make money from individuals and that the SRA should take decisive action. Which? has invited anyone wrongly accused by
Davenport Lyons to contact email@example.com.
Steve Lawson, editor for Hellmail the
postal industry news site said: Its a disgrace that an apparently respected firm of solicitors is relying on such poor evidence and sending out letters to frighten the wits out of people that in many cases have done nothing wrong at all, and then for
those people to discover that they are not even being listened to.
Hot on the heels of the recent announcement in court that ACS:Law will stop chasing alleged file-sharers, comes an even more dramatic development. According to a document seen by TorrentFreak, both ACS:Law and their copyright troll client MediaCAT have
just completely shut down their businesses. The news comes just days before a senior judge is due to hand down a ruling on the pair's activities.
According to a copy of a document obtained by TorrentFreak, which appears to have been sent out by
Crossley during the last week, ACS:Law have not only stopped all file-sharing related work as previously reported, but actually shut down completely 31st January 2011. Furthermore, the document adds that ACS:Law's only remaining speculative invoicing
client -- MediaCAT -- has also ceased trading.
Ahead of Judge Birss' judgement due on Tuesday, it would seem to some that Mr Crossley and Mr Bowden are attempting to avoid not just 'judicial scrutiny' but financial responsibility for the flawed
claims that they foolishly decided to issue, consumer group BeingThreatened told TorrentFreak on hearing the news: They perhaps hoped that they might gain a judgement which they could use to threaten future letter recipients, instead their greed
has led to the exposure of the significant and manifold flaws in the legal and evidential basis of the speculative invoicing scheme they employed.
The Patents Country Court began yet another hearing to announce how more than two dozen previously filed cases should be handled. Judge Birss
QC slammed the scheme operated by the pair and denied them the opportunity to drop the cases.
The court decided that ACS:Law would not be allowed to drop the 26 cases against alleged file-sharers, an answer to one of the key questions from the
earlier hearing. While the copyright holders are being given 14 days to join the action, it is doubtful they will. If this happens, all MediaCAT cases against these defendants will be dismissed in March.
Yet again ACS:Law and client MediaCAT were
heavily criticized, with the Judge reiterating that both companies have a very real interest in avoiding public scrutiny because of the revenue they generated from wholesale letter writing.
Whether it was intended to or not, I
cannot imagine a system better designed to create disincentives to test the issues in court, said the Judge. Why take cases to court and test the assertions when one can just write more letters and collect payments from a proportion of the
Lawyer Andrew Crossley from the now defunct ACS:Law faced the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over his disastrous foray into speculative invoicing
-- the chasing down of alleged file-sharers with the sole aim of receiving cash settlements. In a surprising turn-around from previous displays of bravado, Crossley contested only one of the seven charges against him. The Tribunal suspended him from
acting as a lawyer for 2 years.