There are tens of thousands of people out there receiving letters from lawyers which demand payments to make potential copyright infringement lawsuits go away. Those wrongfully accused have been fighting back in a number of ways, and not without success. Now a team of lawyers is offering to coordinate a group action, with the aim of gathering compensation for victims through harassment claims.
Last month it was revealed that ACS:Law, the now infamous one-man law firm that has sent out tens of thousands demands for cash settlements to make supposed copyright infringement lawsuits go away, has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on allegations of misconduct.
This referral, achieved through the tireless work of those wrongfully accused and consumer groups such as Which? and BeingThreatened.com, was much-welcomed news. But the wheels of justice can turn very slowly. It could take months, maybe more than a year, for the authorities to do their work. This is a serious problem for those still affected by the actions of ACS:Law principal Andrew Crossley.
Make no mistake, this is not going away soon. Crossley is regularly going to court and gaining the identities of thousands more individuals he says are infringing his clients’ copyrights, yet he has no solid proof in almost any instance that this is the case. As a result of flawed evidence, huge numbers of people say they have been accused in error.
Noticing this apparent failing, a team of lawyers in the north of England have announced that they are pursuing a group action and are urging people to come forward to participate. Noting that Crossley has been referred to the SDT for “bullying and excessive conduct”, Ralli Solicitors say that letter recipients may be entitled to compensation for harassment.
“It can be incredibly upsetting for people to receive such letters and they may well have a claim for harassment against ACS Law so I am urging them to come forward,” says Michael Forrester of Ralli’s Intellectual Property and Harassment Law team.
Ralli appears to have considerable experience in this field, having represented several police officers in their claims of harassment made against the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police in 2009.
We contacted Ralli to find out more about the company’s offer. Why does the law firm feel that letter recipients may have been harassed?
“It appears people have been harassed as they have been alarmed and distressed by these letters,” Ralli’s Robert Illidge explained. “A course of conduct which amount to harassment, including alarming and/or distressing a person, is prohibited by the law.”
So what conditions must be met for a letter recipient to be considered eligible for inclusion in the group action? According to Illidge, not many.
“A receipt of correspondence from ACS law, or another firm, falsely accusing a person of infringement,” he told us.
While in some cases the reasons why people are being wrongfully identified may never be known, it is clear that in untold cases innocent bill payers who have carried out no file-sharing at all are getting multiple letters from ACS:Law. Their claims of innocence are going ignored.
The law says that in order to have infringed copyright, bill payers must have either shared files themselves or explicitly authorized someone else to do the act. Since ACS:Law cannot possibly know who is sat at a computer keyboard at any particular time, they wrongfully suggest that the bill payer is the infringer or it is their responsibility to say who did the alleged file-sharing. They are wrong on both counts and people who fall into this category might well consider a claim.
As is common with most cash demands sent to alleged copyright infringers, the settlement amount required by the likes of ACS:Law is carefully weighted. Not too much so that the majority simply can’t pay, and just low enough to make investing in a lawyer to shout their corner an unattractive proposition. So how much will it cost to file for harassment with Ralli?
“Our aim is for the actions to cost claimants nothing,” Illidge told us. “It depends on who is involved, how many claims and how the cases are presented. There are a number of ways of funding group action litigation such as the ‘no win, no fee’ basis.”
So, if successful in their action, what could participants hope to achieve?
“If successful, participants can expect to receive damages for the financial loss and anxiety the letters and other correspondence have caused,” says Illidge. “The law also allows individuals to obtain injunctions in certain specific circumstances, which, if obtained would prevent the harassment from continuing.”
We can’t vouch for Ralli, but with our experience of these actions our friendly advice to bill payers is simple. If you receive a letter addressed to you and you didn’t do what these people say you did, don’t pay. With an eye on the excellent Speculative Invoicing Handbook from BeingThreatened.com, write a single firm but brief letter denying the accusations. If you are harassed again, write to the SRA – they know Mr Crossley very well.
By all means see what Ralli have to offer too. ‘No Win, No Fee’ is just right, but if it’s going to cost much more than a few pounds, don’t bother. ACS:Law have a track record of leaving people alone who have the nerve to stand up to them – you can do that yourselves.
Anyone seeking additional information can contact Michael Forrester or Clare Perchal on 0161 832 6131 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.