ACS:Law, the British law firm that tried to cash in on people's fear of getting sued for illegal file sharing, may be forced to pay the fees incurred during the legal process.
Judge Colin Birss QC has slammed ACS:Law and its partner, MediaCAT for sending thousands of letters to recipients, offering them the choice of either going to court or paying a one-off fee of £500, with the law firm pocketing nearly two thirds of any money collected.
Of the 10,000 letters sent, 26 cases were brought to court. ACS:Law apparently brought forward a list of IP addresses of the alleged culprits, although these cases soon collapsed when it emerged that many of those who had been sent the documents had never been involved in file sharing, let alone any illegal activity.
Both firms have now been wound-up, prompting Judge Birss to say that they had brought the legal profession into disrepute and singled out ACS:Law for being "amateurish and slipshod".
He subsequently backed demands for the firm and its only solicitor, Andrew Crossley, to pay back any fees incurred on the basis that it should be held responsible for "wasted and third party costs". It was Crossley who asked to bring the cases to court and then asked to get them dismissed to avoid judicial scrutiny.
HHJ Birss QC noted in his judgment, "I am quite satisfied to the standard necessary for this stage of a wasted costs application that Mr Crossley is responsible for the Basic Agreements [the licence agreements between Media CAT and original copyright holders] and has thereby acted in breach of the Solicitors Rule 2.04."
A spokesperson for the law firm Ralli, which claims to represent hundreds of defendants in the case, said "It can be incredibly upsetting for people to receive these letters and they may well have a claim in harassment, so I am urging them to come forward."
Crossley, who has already been refused a right of appeal, is already under investigation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and will know more about the potential fee to be reimbursed in June.