Law firm abandons file-sharing threats

12 Apr 2010
Justice

A UK law firm has said it will stop sending letters accusing people of file-sharing in an ongoing legal dispute with Which?

Tilly, Bailey & Irvine Solicitors (TBI) has announced it will stop sending out letters accusing people of file-sharing and demanding compensation.

The law firm is under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), along with UK firms Davenport Lyons and ACS Law. All three firms have been the subject of formal complaints made by consumer group Which? to the SRA.

Hopefully, other law firms thinking of going down a similar route will refrain as we believe the practice is inherently unfair and unethical

The investigations centre on letters which were sent out by these firms accusing people of illegally sharing music, games, pornography and films, before demanding up to £700 in compensation, or threatening the user with legal action. The letters are sent out in large batches in a process called volume litigation.

John Hall, managing partner at TBI, said the decision came down to the "adverse publicity" being attracted to the firm. "We are concerned that [it] could affect other areas of our practice and therefore, following discussions with our clients, we have reluctantly agreed that we will cease sending out further letters of claim."

However, he stressed the withdrawal "does not alter our view that our conduct has always complied with the Solicitors Code of Conduct."

A spokesman for the SRA refused to comment on the investigation, but noted two directors from Davenport Lyons had already been sent before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunals, an independent body that monitors the profession. Brian Miller, who is no longer at the firm, and David Gore are now awaiting the tribunal.

“The allegations have not been worked out yet as the tribunal operates to a criminal standard of proof,” explained the SRA spokesman. "[But] just because Davenport Lyons has been referred to the tribunal doesn’t necessarily mean the others will... [they] are still under investigation.”

However, Which? was swift to laud TBI's decision to get out of the volume litigation game. “We’re really pleased to hear that TBI has seen sense and decided to move out of the volume litigation business,” said Deborah Prince, head of legal affairs at Which?. “Hopefully, other law firms thinking of going down a similar route will refrain as we believe the practice is inherently unfair and unethical.”

“Excessive” and “bullying”

Which? launched its first claim against Davenport Lyons back in December 2008, calling its tactics “bullying” and “excessive” and accusing the law firm of “engaging in volume litigation.”

Davenport Lyons subsequently abandoned letter writing and transferred its business to ACS Law, which also became the subject of a Which? complaint. TBI was the last to face Which?’s wrath in February this year.

All three firms represent music, film and game studios. Which? has slammed the groups for scaring innocent people and has welcomed the “proportionate and graduated response advocated by the Digital Economy Bill” in these matters.

The consumer group claims to have received numerous complaints from concerned internet users, who say they are being falsely accused.

“My 78 year old father yesterday received a letter from ACS:Law demanding £500 for a porn file he is alleged to have downloaded,” one of the complaints to Which? read. “He doesn’t even know what file sharing or bittorrent is so has certainly not done this himself or given anyone else permission to use his computer to do such a thing.”

Read more

News