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Major law firm drops filesharing threats

Staff continue 'bullying' at smaller outfit

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Exclusive Davenport Lyons, the high profile London media law firm, has dropped its mass letter writing campaign on behalf of copyright holders, which accused internet users of illegal filesharing and threatened court action if they did not quickly pay hundreds of pounds compensation.

However, the campaign has been taken up by a much smaller London firm, ACS Law, whose most notable previous action was the civil defence of Vince Acors, the Briton jailed in Dubai last year for having sex on a beach with a fellow expat.

ACS Law began sending out demands for compensation virtually identical to those sent by Davenport Lyons last week, according to posters on the filesharing forum Slyck.com. ACS Law claims the same clients as Davenport Lyons, including Swiss copyright enforcement firm Logistep and similar German outfit Digiprotect.

Davenport Lyons today confirmed it was no longer acting for Digiprotect or for clients of Logistep. "Davenport Lyons' agreed work for a number of its clients in the sphere of illegal file-sharing has reached its conclusion," it told The Register in a statement.

ISP sources dealing with legal requests for customer information said they continued to have contact with some of the same individuals who had run the filesharing compensation operation at Davenport Lyons. The firm confirmed some of its staff had transferred: "Certain members of Davenport Lyons' staff have joined ACS Law to continue working with these clients and we have given permission for ACS Law to use documents originally created by us, in the file-sharing work they undertake."

Davenport Lyons, one of the country's biggest media law firms, denied any formal link with ACS Law, however. "There is no connection, financial or otherwise, between Davenport Lyons and ACS Law. Davenport Lyons will continue to undertake file-sharing work for other clients," it said

Both Logistep and Digiprotect work by harvesting timestamped lists of IP addresses seen infringing copyright via BitTorrent swarms. They pass the lists to British lawyers (previously Davenport Lyons, now ACS law), who are able to force ISPs to disclose the customer identities associated with those IP addresses by High Court order. ACS Law has a list of recently-obtained orders on its website.

Once the alleged filesharers' identities are obtained, the lawyers generate hundreds of letters, usually demanding between £600 and £700 to avoid a costly civil lawsuit. In a formal complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the consumer advocacy group Which? described Davenport Lyons' letters as "bullying".

Davenport Lyons is only known to have ever brought one actual action in the two years it pursued alleged copyright infringers, however. The Central London County Court awarded the firm £16,000 in default, as the defendant did not attend the hearing. Nevertheless, the award was promoted heavily by Davenport Lyons in the national press, alongside warnings it had thousands more alleged illegal filesharers' identities on file.

Lawyers for people accused by Davenport Lyons have noted that when its accusations were disputed, the firm never allowed the strength of its evidence to be tested in court.

ACS Law did not respond to a request for comment on how it plans to operate. Richard Wilson, a member of staff at the firm's offices in Hanover Square, said he was unable to comment.

Davenport Lyons' apparent withdrawal from mass pursuit of filesharers is likely to be interpreted as a concession to the negative publicity it generated for the firm. As reported here last year, Digiprotect pursues copyright infringement claims on behalf of movie producers, including those in the hardcore porn business.

That association drew controversy to Davenport Lyons when it emerged its accusations on behalf of Digiprotect had caused distress to pensioners who had never used BitTorrent, let alone illegally distributed sadomasochistic porn.

Logistep has meanwhile specialised in collecting IP addresses seen sharing computer games over BitTorrent. Its clients include Topware Interactive, Techland and Reality Pump, all of whom are listed as client on ACS Law's website. Davenport Lyons' made its first mass attempt at extracting compensation for alleged illegal filesharing on behalf of Topware Interactive in 2007.

Soon after Davenport Lyons' association with hardcore porn producers was made public, we revealed that the storied videogaming brand Atari had cut ties with the firm.

Davenport Lyons' anti-filesharing practice attracted further heat in December, when the Solicitors Regulatory Authority agreed to investigate the complaint from Which? Today the regulator told The Register the firm's withdrawal would have no effect on the outcome of the probe, which is still ongoing. ®

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