ACS Law, MediaCAT ruling could kill the DEA

The court judgement against ACS Law and MediaCAT won't just bring to an end the extortion racket pioneered by the two - it calls into question the anti-piracy measures of the UK's Digital Economy Act (DEA).

That's the conclusion of BeingThreatened.com, the organisation created to campaign against legal cowboy Andrew Crossley's sharp practice of 'speculative invoicing', which he carried out with the help of (now defunct) copyright trolling porno 'licensing agency' MediaCAT.

Speculative invoicing basically means sending out letters demanding considerable sums of money - often hundreds of pounds - to users alleged to have illegally downloaded copyright material via file-sharing networks, often in the full knowledge that the victims of the scam might be entirely innocent.

On Wednesay, Judge Colin Birss QC panned the pair in a 17,000-word judgment delivered at the Patents County Court.

In a statement, James Bench of BeingThreatened.com described the case as a "near-encyclopaedic catalogue of the errors, omissions, misrepresentations, factual flaws, and thoroughly insufficiently considered and ill-conceived (supposed) legal stance of Andrew Crossley's ACS:Law and his associate, pornography licensee Lee Bowden, trading as Media CAT Ltd".

In his ruling, Judge Birss makes clear his belief that ACS Law and MediaCAT were not motivated by a desire to protect copyright holders, but by a wish to make a fast buck.

The judge wrote: "Simple arithmetic shows that the sums involved in the Media CAT exercise must be considerable. 10,000 letters for Media CAT claiming £495 each would still generate about £1 Million if 80 per cent of the recipients refused to pay and only the 20 cent remainder did so."

But the implications of Birss's judgement go further than that, calling into question a key plank of the controversial Digital Economy Act.

The legislation, which is due to be the subject of a judicial review called for by ISPs BT and TalkTalk, contains a controversial 'three strikes' provision, by which broadband users found to have infringed copyright three times can have their internet access cut off.

To do so, offenders must be identified by their IP address. In his judgement, Birss cast doubt on the accuracy with which this link could be made, due to the problem of unauthorised users gaining access to a unsecured networks.

In the case of ACS Law and MediaCAT, Birss said: "[The claimant's] monitoring exercise cannot and does not purport to identify the individual who actually did anything. All the IP address identifies is an internet connection, which is likely today to be a wireless home broadband router. All [this] monitoring can identify is the person who has the contract with their ISP to have internet access. ...[the claimant does] not know who did it and know that they do not know who did it."

If the judicial review process finds that the DEA is fundamentally flawed due to the difficulty of accurately identifying offenders, the courts could force a legislative rethink. In the words of James Bench, Birss's judgement gives campaigners "reason to hope that justice may yet prevail".