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Anti-piracy lawyers "knew letters targeted innocent people"


By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 19 Nov 2010 at 09:36

A pair of lawyers knowingly sent out letters to innocent people as part of their anti-piracy work, a legal watchdog has claimed.

Davenport Lyons issued letters on behalf of rights owners to people accused of pirating content based on IP address data.

The two parters, David Gore and Brian Miller, sent the 6,000 letters on behalf of video games makers, threatening legal action if recipients didn't pay a settlement of £525.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said last year it would take action against the pair, and has now laid out its case, claiming Gore and Miller were fully aware that the IP data they used to identify accused file-sharers was flawed.

The SRA's filing said the two lawyers "knew that in conducting generic campaigns against those identified as IP holders whose IP numeric had been used for downloading or uploading of material that they might in such generic campaigns be targeting people innocent of any copyright breach."

The watchdog also accuses the Davenport Lyons pair of allowing their independence to be compromised, by turning the letter campaign into a revenue generator rather than a legal case - meaning they acted in their own financial interests instead of their clients.

The lawyers convinced right holders to allow them to act on their behalf by waiving hourly fees and instead taking a cut of the settlements. The pair earned £150,000 of the £370,000 collected from alleged file-sharers.

Because they were looking to recoup their own costs, the lawyers ignored clients' concerns about the negative publicity the letter campaign could - and eventually did - cause, the SRA claimed.

The SRA said the lawyers persisted with the letters against the advice of their own counsel, and "despite knowing that disquiet was being caused by their campaign, and that they might be targeting innocent individuals."

The case will be heard in May next year. Davenport Lyons has since stopped the practice, and another firm, ACS:Law also faces SRA action.

Read this month's PC Pro for a full investigation into the evidence used by file-sharing lawyers.

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User comments

So roughly 700 out of 6,000 people actually paid? Not bad...

By Lomskij on 19 Nov 2010

"So roughly 700 out of 6,000 people actually paid? Not bad..."

True. There's many a Nigerian scammer who would love that kind of success rate. Perhaps they should hire some of these shyster lawyers? Might be a cost-effective move.

By Lacrobat on 19 Nov 2010

Lacrobat - Nigerians outsourcing to the UK. Whatever next!?

By Chatan on 19 Nov 2010

How was it that the SRA got involved in this case? Presumably someone on the receiving end of a letter can make a complaint to them?

I have to say I am very impressed with their actions at keeping their house in order and if they are responding to the complaint of an individual, OFCOM could learn a lot from them.

By Fraz_pro on 19 Nov 2010

Now, imagine if you're the IP holder and instead of getting a cut of solicitors fees you'd instead received £2 from 6000 people and, probably, repeat business.

Crikey o'reily! Offering a product that people want, when they want it at a price they're willing to pay? What an idea! We could call this... I dunno - economics!

Instead of suing people, what about selling them stuff? Perhaps offering the customer the opportunity to buy the content from their website? Promote BOGOFs? Don't demonise your customers, sell to them!

Without sounding facetious, people are obviously willing to pay for content (I bought and paid for a film from Blinkbox). I was just peeved in the extreme when it only ran inside Windows Media Player. Something i'd bought and paid for wouldn't run on my platform of choice because of the utter absurdity of DRM.

So now I've wasted £10 and won't bother again. Blinkbox lose (almost certainly through no fault of their own), content maker loses. Stupid, silly people.

By bubbles16 on 19 Nov 2010

Future Thinking (tm)

@bubbles - your pricing model doesnt work. You're talking about revenues of £12,000 whereas they have proven that a dodgy solicitor and some stamps can reap a reward of £220,000! It needs a lot of repeat business to get even close to that.

However, being serious for a moment, I agree 100% with your comments. It's not even as though the pricing they charge now is based on cost + markup - its what they feel the market will tolerate whilst all the time bleating that every pirated copy is a lost sale which has long since been proven to be utter tosh in the real world.

And goodness knows how much they spend on DRM which has no effect on pirates and only ever hinders the legitimate buyers. Lose the DRM costs and pass it on in lower prices.

I despair at the thinking that goes on inside these organisations.

By Fraz_pro on 19 Nov 2010

Complaints to SRA

Anyone who has used a solicitor can complain to the SRA if they are not happy with the service received.

I presume this means that the software companies that initially used Davenport Lyons made a complaint themselves to the SRA. It looks like the software companies were shafted as much as those threatened by Davenport and Lyons - although the software comapnies were in a better position to pay for this fraud/scam.

By Manuel on 19 Nov 2010

Wait a second!!!!

ACS Law?????
just a small point, ACS law does exactly the same with the main guy being twice found guilty of conduct unbefitting a solicitor by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and he is doing it for financial purposes, you cannot say that he is not doing it for that reason. So these guys will be brought down and ACS guy who does exactly the same thing will carry on, a bit unfair!!!!

By mobilegnet on 19 Nov 2010

Lawers after money? No surprise there.

Your article includes the phrase: "they acted in their own financial interests instead of their clients."
Sceptical readers might ask when do lawers not consider their own financial interests? Most jokes about lawers refer to their costs.

By Dave2207 on 19 Nov 2010

The perfect scam

So... Given that most people have a dynamic IP address assigned by their ISP, they're unlikely to know what it actually is. Therefore, a scammer could send out a thousand letters accusing the recipient of using IP address to download illegal content. Allow the person to 'settle' for £500 and wait for the cheques to start arriving. Nice.

By grimerking on 19 Nov 2010

The Perfect Scam
Send the letters out using Router IP address's most people who log into their router will have the same IP address. Then you will have a greater chance of success.

By bigluap on 22 Nov 2010

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