ACS Law uses questionnaire to chase piratesDocument asks for PCs to be forensically examined

25 May 2010

The scales of justice held up

Consumers who believe they have been wrongly accused of illicit file sharing are under no legal obligation to complete questionnaires asking them to submit their computers to a forensic examination, as well as confirming details about their internet connection.

The questionnaires are being sent out by file-sharing solicitors ACS Law to people who have refuted claims of illegal file sharing.

Find out how to refute file-sharing allegations from ACS Law

  • Which? Computing has seen a copy of the questionnaire, which asks alleged file sharers to confirm that they are the owner of the internet connection, state whether their wireless connection is secured or unsecured, state whether they are using file-sharing software and why
  • It also asks alleged infringers if they are willing for their computers to undergo forensic analysis
  • Respondents are asked to confirm who else is using the wireless internet connection

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Bullying tactics from file-sharing firms

Which? believes that the letters are the latest in a round of ‘bullying’ tactics being used by ACS Law

Deborah Prince, Which?'s head of legal affairs, said 'I think it is outrageous that ACS Law is asking consumers to provide evidence to support the claims that ACS Law is making on their clients' behalf, especially since many of the recipients may not have legal representation. I think its tactics are really underhand here. ACS Law should have all the evidence it needs before making these allegations. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't be asking unrepresented consumers to provide that evidence!

'This is just another variation of what we believe is bullying behaviour by ACS Law, who say that by not completing the questionnaire it has no option but to consider people guilty of illegal file sharing and pursue the case in court. Declining to fill in a form does not provide evidence of guilt,' she continued.

Don't fill in file-sharing questionnaires

Deborah Prince suggests that anyone who receives one of these questionnaires should write to ACS Law restating their innocence, providing such evidence as they can to prove it wasn't them. For example, they could give details of being on holiday at the time or at work and state that this can be corroborated in a witness statement, if necessary.

They should also explain that they are not willing to complete the questionnaire issued by ACS Law as it is for ACS Law to prove their clients' claims of illegal file-sharing and not for them to explain why they are innocent. In the UK, the general principle is that the claimant must prove its claim and not for an accused person to prove its innocence.

Furthermore, there is no legal obligation for recipients to complete the questionnaire - and where people are not being advised by a solicitor they need to be doubly careful.

Which?'s view is shared by Lawdit Solicitors, the Southampton-based legal firm specialising in intellectual property, internet and corporate law. Michael Coyle, Lawdit's managing director and solicitor advocate, is defending a number of people who he believes have been wrongly accused of illegal file-sharing.

'Intimidatory, oppressive and bullying'

'We feel that the questionnaire is intimidatory, oppressive and bullying, and there's no legal obligation for anyone to fill out this questionnaire,' Mr Coyle said.

'ACS Law has been sending out these questionnaires for a while now. One of our clients notified us of this [practice] last year. What ACS Law appears to be saying is that this questionnaire is a necessary step for them to acquire the knowledge to determine whether they should bring a claim against an individual or not.

Mr Coyle said that threats of court proceedings should be ignored. 'Over the last two years, I've spoken to over a thousand people who have been accused of illegal file sharing, and we have about 200 people who have been similarly accused on our books. ACS Law has never issued a claim against any of them,' he explained.

The questionnaire was sent to Which? by a reader after informing ACS Law that they were not responsible for illegally downloading 23 pornographic films. The reader has been asked to pay £1,200 in compensation or face legal proceedings.

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