The barrister at the centre of a plagiarism dispute between two law firms has acknowledged that through “developing protocols” he “inadvertently committed a technical breach of copyright.” 

The dispute began after JMW partner, Nick McAleenan, received a letter of claim from data breach specialists, Hayes Connor, which he recognised as his own work. JMW reportedly contacted Hayes Connor to demand that they cease using the letter.

Hayes Connor denied copyright infringement, though agreed to amend their letter for future use. However, JMW asserted that this was not “completed fully” and that the firm continued to use the letter for a further six months. 

In their defence, Hayes Connor claimed that they had instructed counsel, Ian Whitehurst of Exchange Chambers, and that he had provided them with the infringing letter and that they had no knowledge that the letter infringed another firm’s copyright.

However, JMW reported that in court pleadings, Whitehurst stated that Hayes Connor were “aware” that the template letter was derived from the work of JMW and that he “had not given them permission to duplicate their work en masse.” JMW maintained in their claim that Hayes Connor had awareness.

In a statement, Hayes Connor insisted they has no knowledge of the breach: “We instructed a barrister who, unbeknown to us, copied sections of a precedent which were then used by us in letters of claim. We had no knowledge he had done this and two other firms also used the same material.”

JMW and Hayes Connor settled out of court, with Hayes Connor agreeing to pay JMW £45,000 in damages for copyright infringement plus JMW’s costs, after it admitted to having reproduced a substantial part of JMW’s copyright work, sending the letter out on 242 separate occasions.

Hayes Connor has said they will now pursue a case against Whitehurst. 

Whitehurst released a statement through his solicitors, Manleys Solicitors, in which he acknowledged the breach, and stated that he “had hoped that a swift and sincere apology would suffice but it wasn’t accepted.”

He added: “I have been a practitioner for 26 years during which time, despite the challenges, I can honestly state that I have never been subjected to the bewildering unpleasantness I have experienced during the currency of this dispute. 

“I hope that all parties can now move on, particularly with the additional challenges the pandemic presents. I sincerely hope this provides us all with fresh perspective.”
 

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