ACS:Law campaign targeted innocents, says ex-worker

The former employee said he quit after realising that the law firm was demanding payment for copyright infringement from people who were 'not guilty'
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

A former employee of ACS:Law, which sent out demands for money to suspected copyright infringers, has said he quit working for the firm when he realised that it was issuing demands for payment to people who were "not guilty".

The employee, speaking to BBC 5 Live on Sunday, said that it became clear that some of the people the company was contacting were obviously not responsible for the alleged infringements.

"What I gradually became aware of was that some people were clearly not guilty," the ex-employee told the BBC. "Some of them were, for instance, old ladies who never downloaded files — they just didn't have security on their wireless connection. And some of the people ringing up came from pretty bad circumstances."

Starting in 2009, ACS:Law, acting on behalf of copyright-protection company MediaCAT, sent out demands for money to more than 20,000 people it suspected of unlawfully sharing files. The demands could have netted the company more than £1m.

The company used IP address information to identify suspected downloaders and then asked them to pay fines of £495 each.

However, the law firm ran into trouble over its tactics. It announced in January that it was dropping its outstanding cases and had ceased trading. Andrew Crossley, the lawyer heading up the firm, is still subject to a personal investigation by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Cases to continue

On 8 February, Judge Birss of the London Patents County Court ordered that the cases continue, adding that ACS:Law's previous request that cases are resolved by means of a default judgement was almost unheard of in intellectual-property cases.

He also said that the plaintiff — MediaCAT — was attempting to abuse the judicial process by dropping a flawed case with the intention of re-suing later and that he was unconvinced by the use of IP addresses to establish guilt.

"Even if it is proof of infringement by somebody... it is not at all clear to me that the person identified must be infringing one way or another," Birss said. "The fact that someone may have infringed does not mean the particular named defendant has done so."

The appreciation of value in digital IP is so low, many think nothing of sharing paid-for product with friends and the world at large for free.
– Federation Against Software Theft

In a statement issued on Monday, the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast) backed the judge's decision to see the 26 cases through to their conclusion.

Fast also said that it feels that the real issue of copyright infringement is being obscured by media coverage of the ACS:Law case.

"Much press coverage is being given over to the problems, politics and methods employed to catch infringers, but what has been forgotten is that the appreciation of value in digital IP [intellectual property] is so low, many think nothing of sharing paid-for product with friends and the world at large for free," the copyright holders' organisation said in a statement.

"If there is no absolute consequence, the behaviour is unlikely to change," it added.

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