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Judge slaps wasted costs order on 'slipshod' ACS Law

18 April 2011

ACS Law and the firm’s sole principal Andrew Crossley, who brought copyright infringement claims against thousands of web users suspected of illegal file sharing, have been joined as party to the case against the company behind the original claim.

Allowing an application for a wasted costs order to proceed, the judge said the firm’s conduct had been “chaotic and lamentable” and could at best be described as “amateurish and slipshod”. The exact amount of wasted costs will be determined at a further hearing.

Crossley acted for MediaCAT, a company that had entered into a number of agreements with a number of copyright holders – mostly in the film industry – giving it the right to pursue individuals believed to have downloaded films illegally.

Under the agreements, Crossley sent out speculative letters to thousands of individuals asking them to pay £500 or face possible court action.

The agreements provided that Crossley and his firm would receive 65 per cent of the revenue generated from the letter-writing exercise.

Several defendants responded by bringing a claim against MediaCAT, asking for ACS Law and Crossley to be joined to the proceedings and claiming that the solicitor had acted in breach of professional rules.

In most cases the copyright infringement claims were based on evidence collected from users’ computers, which the court found to be technologically unreliable.

In February Crossley applied to have the cases that had come to court discontinued, but Judge Birss, in the Patents County Court, said they should go ahead.

The notices of discontinuance, he said, were an abuse of process that had “the collateral effect of avoiding judicial scrutiny of the underlying copyright claims”.

Holding that Crossley had acted in breach of professional conduct rules, the judge repeated today that it was plain the solicitor had “lent his assistance to proceedings which are an abuse of the process of the court” and “use[d] litigious procedures for purposes for which they were not intended, as by issuing or pursuing proceedings for reasons unconnected with success in the litigation”.

“The improper revenue sharing arrangements meant that Mr Crossley himself had a direct financial interest in continuing the letter-writing campaign,” the judge said.

“Mr Crossley/ACS Law had a very real interest in avoiding judicial scrutiny of the cause of action because of the revenues from the letter-writing campaign,” he continued. “The combination of Mr Crossley’s revenue-sharing arrangements and his service of the notices of discontinuance serves to illustrate the dangers of such a revenue-sharing arrangement and has, prima facie, brought the legal profession into disrepute.

“It is, prima facie, improper conduct,” he concluded, saying that ACS Law’s approach had been “amateurish and slipshod” .

Crossley is the object of separate proceedings by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and a date for a tribunal hearing is expected to be set shortly.

“Today’s judgment at the Patents County Court supports our concerns about the effects this sort of correspondence has on the public,” a spokesperson said.

Ralli is acting for a number of the defendants targeted by ACS Law. The firm said it has also been contacted by about 250 individuals who received letters from ACS Law and is considering a possible harassment claim against the firm.

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Risk & Compliance Legal Aid