ACS:Law's disastrous legal action against alleged unlawful file-sharers has finally come to an end, and the lawyer behind the case could now face tens of thousands of pounds in costs.
Judge Birss of the London Patents County Court issued an ex tempore judgement on Wednesday, striking out all the cases. He ordered costs in the defendants' favour and is now considering ordering 'wasted costs' and third-party costs.
According to a BBC report, Ralli — the law firm representing several of the defendants — is seeking £90,000 from Andrew Crossley and his now-defunct firm. The article points out that it is unusual for a judge to consider imposing wasted costs, and the fact Birss is doing so points to his displeasure at ACS:Law's behaviour during the case. It quotes Birss as saying: "If ever there was a case with conduct out of the norm it was this one."
ACS:Law, which had already sent thousands of letters accusing people of unlawfully downloading copyrighted music and videos and requesting £495 payments to avoid the courts, took 27 defendants to court in December last year. However, the case backfired and the intervening period saw the company go out of business — at least in part because Crossley had also invoked the wrath of the online collective Anonymous, and was receiving threats against himself and his family.
Crossley tried to get his own firm's case dropped, but Birss said this was an attempted abuse of process — he said the plaintiffs were trying to back out of a flawed case in the hope of later bringing a fresh action against the defendants. The lawyer remains under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regarding the letter-writing campaign.
The aborted case also led to a stinging, precedent-setting legal judgement by Birss that laid out the problems with accusing someone of unlawful file-sharing based purely on their IP address. Before the law firm tried unsuccessfully to get a summary judgement on behalf of its pornographer client, the content industry had shied away from the courts, limiting its threats to mass letter-writing campaigns.
Now, thanks to ACS:Law, future actions brought by that industry will have to deal with key questions that Birss has said remained unresolved, such as whether an equation really can be drawn between allowing someone to use your internet connection and authorising them to unlawfully download copyrighted material, and whether the level of security on a Wi-Fi router is relevant to liability.