ACS:Law Suffers Embarrassing Copyright Case Failure

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Anti-piracy law firm ACS:Law has suffered an embarrassing defeat in its first file-sharing court case

The controversial law firm that specialises in anti-piracy lawsuits has suffered an embarrassing legal defeat in court.

ACS:Law achieved notoriety for its “pay up or we’ll sue” letters to people who it claims infringed on its clients’ copyrights. The German partner of ACS:Law defended its actions in April, saying it was just protecting its rights-holders.

This was in marked contrast to the findings of consumer magazine Which?

Which? has been actively campaigning against the “pay up or we’ll sue” letter campaign used by ACS:Law, after it received hundreds of enquiries from people who claimed they were wrongly accused of pirating porn and music content. Among the accused was a 78-year-old man, accused of downloading pornography.

Court Action Backfires

According to TorrentFreak, Andrew Crossly (the owner of ACS:Law) decided to follow up on the the lawsuit threats in their letters, and took eight unnamed and unrepresented defendants to court in late November, in the hope of getting an easy default judgement.

However it seems that Crossly’s plan backfired, after Judge Birss QC of the Patents County Court firmly rejected his cases.

ACS:Law brought the lawsuits using a ‘front company’ called Media C.A.T Ltd, which apparently represents various owners or exclusive licensees of copyrighted works. Unfortunately for Crossly, you cannot do that in the British legal system.

“The claimant, Media C.A.T, is not the rights holder of the works in question,” said Judge Birss. “A copyright case can only be brought by the owner of a copyright or an exclusive licensee.”

However Judge Birss did not stop there and took issue with a number of problems with the cases, including the fact that it wasn’t clear all the defendants were actually served and notified of the lawsuit.

Unsecured Networks

But most damningly of all, Judge Birss took ACS:Law to task over its claims that the defendants had allowed others to use their network connection, which it said is a restricted act under British law.

“The Particulars of Claim include allegations about unsecured Internet connections,” said the judge. “I am aware of no published decision in this country which deals with this issue in the context of copyright infringement.”

“The plea that ‘allowing’ others to infringe is itself an act restricted by s16 (1)(a) and 17 of the 1988 Act is simply wrong,” said Judge Birss. “The term used by those sections of the Act is ‘authorising’ and the difference may be very important if the allegation is about unauthorised use of an Internet router by third parties.”

Judge Birss also said that the Particulars of Claim presented by ACS:Law “are defective on a number of somewhat technical but important grounds”, including non-compliance with at least four civil procedure rules.

Porn Breach

It has not been an easy time for ACS:Law and Andrew Crossly.

Back in September the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) confirmed that it was investigating a major data breach at ACS:Law, after the unencrypted details of thousands of broadband users, who reportedly signed up to BSkyB services and were thought to be illegally sharing pornography, was leaked on its website. This website is still not operational months later.

That breach could see the ICO hitting ACS:Law with a maximum penalty of £500,000.

Privacy campaign group Privacy International said back in September that it was planning legal action against the UK law firm for the breach.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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